Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - HIV risk for ‘good’ women

HIV risk for ‘good’ women

A Cambodian nurse offers drugs to a woman who is living with HIV at a hospital in Phnom Penh in 2012. AFP
A Cambodian nurse offers drugs to a woman who is living with HIV at a hospital in Phnom Penh in 2012. AFP

HIV risk for ‘good’ women

Traditional values are putting Cambodian wives at risk of HIV infection from their own husbands, according to a new study.

The study, published by the Journal of Nursing Scholarship earlier this month, found wives’ “commitment to being a ‘good’ Khmer woman” stops them from challenging their husbands over their infidelities and reluctance to use condoms, which in turn heightens their risk of HIV infection.

For the study, Dr Youngran Yang interviewed 15 women who had been infected with HIV by their husbands. According to the National AIDS Authority, 48 per cent of all new HIV infections in Cambodia are the result of spousal transmission.

“During the interviews, my heart was broken as I heard their stories,” said Yang, who has been working in Cambodia on and off since 2004.

Most of the women believed their husbands were infected sleeping with sex workers.

Yang found that for most of the women participating in her study, their husbands’ frequenting brothels was an accepted part of marriage.

“[They] believed that a man cannot be sexually satisfied by only one woman, referring to a popular Cambodian proverb: ‘No one eats sour soup every day.’” she wrote in her report.

Not one of the women interviewed, who had been married as long as 26 years, said they had ever enjoyed sex. Instead, they viewed sating their husbands’ lust as part of a duty to maintain “the stability and harmony of the household family”.

One woman quoted in the paper reported having been beaten by her husband for refusing sex. “He said things like this: ‘If you won’t allow me to sleep with you, it means you have a sahay [boyfriend].’”

Yang said the women she spoke to accepted their situation. “Some made complaints to their husbands, but they accepted the situation, like it was their destiny, like maybe they did something wrong in the past,” she said.

Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, was not surprised by Yang’s findings.

“In Cambodia, the wife does not have power to discuss equally between husband and wife, not only about sex, but sex is the most important thing,” said Sopheap.

“Because people believe that this is what you’re supposed to do when you’re married and people cannot refuse sex.

“If the wife asks the husband to use a condom, the husband will say: ‘What’s wrong with you? Did you have affairs before we were married?’”

Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia executive director Var Chivorn said less than 5 per cent of married couples that came to his organisation for advice used condoms.


  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon

  • Migrant workers set to return from Malaysia

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation confirmed on Thursday that 158 Cambodian students and migrant workers will fly home from Malaysia on Friday morning. This is the second flight to bring Cambodians home from Malaysia. A ministry notice said Malaysia Airlines Flight MH754 will