‘The epidemic in this country has the face of a woman’1: Gender and HIV/AIDS in South Africa2

  • Leah Gilbert
  • Terry-Ann Selikow

Abstract

Epidemiological data clearly show that the highest levels of HIV prevalence occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Less visible, however, is the complex combination of forces that fuel HIV epidemics in this region — these have been dubbed ‘the lethal cocktail.’ It is this ‘cocktail’ that creates an enabling environment for the spread of HIV. The HIV epidemic in the region is increasingly ‘feminised’ as a growing proportion of new infections occurs among and affects women. The  gendered pattern of distribution of HIV in South Africa reflects a similar pattern. The aim of this article is to interrogate the contextual factors  underlying the differential vulnerabilities of men and women, and the implications for HIV prevention, treatment and care. The analysis, based on a review of documents and applicable literature, reveals that a perilous mix of biomedical, political, economic, and cultural forces shapes the gendered dynamic of the HIV epidemic in South Africa. The article identifies a theoretical framework to decode the most common components of this mix, namely: lack of  access to material resources, cultural norms wherein women are subservient to  men and masculinity is partly defined in terms of multiple sexual partners and  intergenerational sex, combined with high levels of violence against women. We conclude by offering a framework for gendered interventions for HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Keywords: gender inequality, HIV prevention, socio-cultural and material aspects, women

African Journal of AIDS Research 2011, 10(supplement): 325–334

Author Biographies

Leah Gilbert
University of the Witwatersrand, Department of Sociology, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, Johannesburg, South Africa
Terry-Ann Selikow
University of the Witwatersrand, Department of Sociology, Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, Johannesburg, South Africa
Section
Articles

Journal Identifiers


eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445