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Culture, gender, and HIV and AIDS : United Church of Zambia's response to traditional marriage practices.

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In the wake of HIV and AIDS in Africa, culture has been identified as central to HIV prevention, care, and support. Therefore, scholars have argued that HIV intervention in communities should focus on cultural practices rather than just individual behaviour. Researchers have also taken note of the interconnectedness between religion and culture in Africa. Therefore the African theologian, Mercy Oduyoye, proposed the term ‘religioculture.’ In the light of this connection, it has become crucial to examine not just cultural practices but the response of religion to cultural practices in the context of HIV. Given that Zambia is a Christian country, this qualitative empirical study sought to examine the response of a church, the United Church of Zambia (UCZ), to traditional marriage practices that I consider to be harmful in the context of HIV. Traditional marriage practices such as child marriage and widowhood inheritance were analysed through gendered theological perspectives. The study was located in the United Church of Zambia in the towns of Mufulira and Kitwe in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia. The reason for choosing the practices of widowhood inheritance and child marriage as the areas of focus was twofold: first, throughout history and in the current context, the church and society’s perception of these two practices has been ambiguous. Depending on the time and event in history, the practices were seen as either a norm or a problem. In this study, I have questioned the extent to which this historical ambiguity towards these traditional marriage practices has contributed to the way in which the church today is responding to these culture practices. The second reason for choosing these two marriage practices was to highlight how the institution of marriage has been challenged in the context of HIV and AIDS. When marriage ceases to be a safe practice for couples, how should the church respond to the harmful cultural practices associated with marriage, especially in the context of HIV and AIDS? The question that this study posed, therefore, was: What role has the United Church of Zambia played in either promoting or discouraging harmful marriage practices in the context of HIV and AIDS? The methodology used to answer this question included: semi- structured interviews, openended in-depth interviews, Contextual Bible Study, and focus group discussions as forms of data collection from: church leaders, lay people, widows, girls involved in child marriage, and members of the Marriage Guidance Committee. Thereafter, the data was thematically ii analysed using the theory of African feminist cultural hermeneutics. The study is divided into eight chapters, each chapter answers one of the objectives of the study. Through the use of the tools for data collection stated above, the study drew a number of conclusions. Firstly, it was established that indeed child marriage and widowhood inheritance are contributing factors to the spread of HIV. Secondly, the Marriage Guidance Programme of the United Church of Zambia was identified as a point of entry in re-examining the theology of marriage that is contextual and holistic in the United Church of Zambia. Thirdly, the church’s ambivalence with regard to harmful marriage practices in the context of HIV and AIDS was attributed to people’s belief systems about their cultures which are embedded in their worldviews. Overall, the study has shown that there is a need for an analysis of culture within the church which can enable it to respond to harmful cultural practices in the context of HIV.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2011.


United Church of Zambia., HIV infections--Africa south of the Sahara., Gender identity--Africa south of the Sahara., Marriage customs and rites--Zambia., Theses--Theology.