Social networks, gender and HIV within marriages in Kenya
Gender inequalities drive the HIV risk within marriages in Kenya, yet strategies to combat the spread of HIV are limited by their emphasis on the individual or dyadic relationship rather than the wider social-cultural relations that shape gender relations within marriage. This study explores how couples’ social networks and spaces of interactions are implicated in the (re)production of gender and gender relations and how this, consequently, shapes HIV risks within marriage. It draws on qualitative data from 14 relatively poor couples from rural eastern Kenya and 13 middle-class couples from the capital city of Nairobi. The data describe couples’ networks and address three broad themes: kin relations and gender (re)production; informal financial networks and gender hierarchies; and gender segregation of networks and spaces of interaction. Overall, findings show that much social interaction serves to reinforce gender identities, ideologies and realities that already exist though gender relations might differ among poor rural and middle-class city couples. Therefore, for public health, incorporating couples’ wider social and gender relations in HIV interventions in marriage is imperative. Moreover, an intersectional perspective that considers how gender mutually interacts with class, space/geography, religion, age, and other axes of difference to produce particular forms of gender and gender relations in networks is crucial in informing HIV interventions in addressing gender power relationships that shape HIV risk in marriages.
Keywords: public health, social relations, gender relations, construction, gender inequalities, HIV risk