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How does AIDS illness affect women’s residential decisions? Findings from an ethnographic study in a Cape Town township

Rachel Bray


This paper explores the nature and consequences of residential decision-making for women on treatment for AIDS illness in a poor urban  settlement in South Africa. Drawing on ethnographic data collected over a two-year period, it points to the subtle shifts in ‘householding’ practices and kinship relationships prompted by women’s individual experiences and understanding of their HIV status, illness and treatment. Women’s decisions to move or to arrange that other family members move can be  explained by pre-existing threats to individual wellbeing or family residential security. But an HIV diagnosis can intensify a mother’s thoughts and actions in relation to residential and emotional security, in particular on behalf of her children. In a context where extended periods of childcare by rural relatives is common, mothers with AIDS illness may gather all their children in their home to offer direct care, achieve intimacy and facilitate disclosure. They are likely to avoid making frequent contact with, and demands on, their elderly parents. Siblings are favoured as co-residents and confidants in disclosure, but their long-term support is contingent on reciprocity. Partners, where present, are valued for economic, social and emotional security. Women attempt to balance their children’s nurturing, in the short and long term, with care of the self. Their efforts do not always succeed and can incur high costs to  their wellbeing and relationships with their children.

Keywords: care, HIV/AIDS, households, kinship, motherhood, moving house, poverty, social anthropology, urban domestic relationships

African Journal of AIDS Research 2009, 8(2): 167–179

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445