Probing the sociocultural factors influencing female condom use among heterosexual women in Clermont, Durban.
Most of the world’s women are poor. In Africa, this fact is further compounded by patriarchal influences that permeate traditional African cultures. As such many women occupy the lower ranks in society and often bear the brunt of HIV infections and unplanned pregnancies. In South Africa, out of all HIV infected people, women and children continue to bear a huge burden of this infection. Whilst African culture has undergone considerable change over a period of time with influences from colonization¹, apartheid² (in South Africa) urbanization, Christianity, migrant labour system and acculturation, cultural ideals of behaviour related to patriarchy continues. These ideals have influenced and shaped attitudes, beliefs and values that individuals portray in relation to their expectations in heterosexual relationships with regards to sexuality, family life and gender roles. Within this context, men continue to wield tremendous gender power which has diminished women’s autonomy, resulting into gender inequalities. These inequalities have hindered most women’s ability to insist on condom use or refuse sex. This has put women at a disadvantage and increased their risk of unplanned pregnancies, contracting HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections. This study was conducted to probe and understand the factors that influence the use or non-use of female condoms where gender inequalities still exist to some degree. Hence the insertion of this study was to contribute to the understanding of broader socio cultural issues that influence the use of female condoms as a women initiated strategy to prevent sexual transmitted infections, HIV and unplanned pregnancies in this community³. It also aimed to find out if males supported women in health initiatives. Understanding these factors can re-shape interventions designed to strengthen women initiated HIV prevention and contraceptive methods including female condoms. The results of the study showed that most women are not powerless to negotiate safer sex practices. The study also found that behaviors towards medical interventions are not only shaped by social prescripts but by knowledge, understanding, perception and beliefs formed around the intervention. The study also revealed that perceived benefits of the intervention can influence acceptability and continued use of female condoms by both males and females. Thus there is fertile ground for continued education and empowerment of both males and females through targeted messaging including male involvement in health initiatives.
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