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Demonizing women in the era of AIDS: an analysis of the gendered construction of HIV/AIDS in KwaZulu-Natal.

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As the second decade of AIDS draws to a close, researchers and others involved in the AIDS effort have come to appreciate that complex interactions between social, cultural, biological and economic forces are involved in shaping the epidemiological course of the disease. Nevertheless, the process by which these variables interact and affect each other remains poorly understood, with many of the shaping forces yet to be fully explored. In South Africa, the sociocultural matrix in which the AIDS epidemic is embedded and its role in shaping the interpretation and experience of AIDS have not been fully analyzed. This thesis represents an attempt to elucidate the finer nuances of some commonly-held local beliefs, perceptions, symbolic representations, ethnomedical explanatory models and mythologies associated with AIDS. These associations are viewed as directly informing the way in which Zulu-speaking people are experiencing and responding to HIV/AIDS in KwaZulu Natal, currently home to 1/3 of the country's estimated 3 million HIV infected people. In particular, the focus is on the gender patterning of AIDS, with ethnographic data drawn from extensive field experience at St Wendolin's Mission, a peri-urban settlement in the Marianhill district of Durban. The shared perception of women as naturally 'dirty', as sexually 'out of control' and suspected of using witchcraft in new ways, are identified and discussed as key conceptual strands contributing to the sociocultural construction of HIV/AIDS in that community. It is argued that these notions are metaphorically joining and combining in ways that 'gender' the AIDS epidemic and simultaneously 'demonize' women. The central tenet of this thesis is that HIV/AIDS is fundamentally associated with women as a female caused and transmitted disease that can and does affect men. The author argues that the gendered construction of AIDS in St Wendolin's is a reflection of patriarchal resistance to women's changing roles and expectations that represent an overstepping of culturally defined moral boundaries. Deeply embedded ways of thinking associated with notions of gender are viewed as germane to the disempowerment of women that ultimately impedes the fight against HIV/AIDS. The thesis concludes with a discussion on the opportunity which the current AIDS epidemic presents for wider sociocultural transformation, and how this might be achieved through an AIDS 'education for liberation' based on the philosophies of Paulo Freire.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1999.


Medical anthropology., Theses--Anthropology., AIDS (Disease)--Social aspects--KwaZulu-Natal, AIDS (Disease) in women., AIDS (Disease)--South Africa--Prevention., AIDS (Disease)--Public opinion., Zulu (African people)--Social life and customs.