Sexual practices and the cultural meanings of rural people in Zimbabwe in the era of the Human Immunodefiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic : a social constructionist perspective.
Notwithstanding a myriad of interventions put in place over three decades to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the incidence and prevalence are still unacceptably high in southern Africa. There is a need to broaden the HIV/AIDS research agenda by exploring the nuanced socio-cultural contexts within which mundane social and sexual encounters occur. The thesis explored the sexual practices and cultural meanings of seventy rural Zimbabwean men and women using a social constructionist approach informed by the voice-relational methodology. Findings of the study show that the construction of meaning around HIV/AIDS is subjective and influenced by social contestations around space, gender, type of relationship as well as the social sanctions or support mechanisms available at a particular moment. Some of the cultural factors that facilitate the spread of HIV include gender roles that disapprove of sexual concurrency for women but tolerate this practice among men. The study also highlighted the vulnerability of young women, in secretive relationships, to sexual violence perpetrated by their male partners, lack of social support for women who participate in socially disapproved practices including pre-marital sex, and involvement in commercial sexual activities. Prevention efforts should be located in people’s experiences and interpretation of their lifeworlds, paying particular attention to the language people use to construct meaning around the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The interventions must navigate structural, spatial, personal, and familial contestations for relevance and effectiveness.