In the past three decades, the HIV pandemic has struck sub-Saharan Africa and resulted in devastating consequences. Increasingly studies have shifted from applying a bio-medical approach to HIV to applying a social approach. This study focuses on applying a social approach. One of the major factors that contributes to the high HIV prevalence is women’s inferior social status. Women are unable to challenge their partners in situations of sexual intimacy and as such they are often at risk of contracting HIV. In Malawi, patriarchyis the dominant ideology structuring gender roles. These gender roles reinforce social hierarchies where women’s capacity to practice agency is significantly decreased. The domestic responsibilities female scholars carry often leads to their drop-out from school. Their lack of formal education, as a result, decreases their ability to pursue income generating activities. Furthermore their inability to acquire income increases their dependence on their partners. It is in part this dependence that perpetuates women’s vulnerability and ultimately increases their risk of contracting HIV. This study focused on how women are socialised to perform certain gendered roles and how this socialisation ultimately affects their capacity to negotiate safe sex.Various institutions and organisations have driven intervention programmes in communities in Malawi in order to address the issue of HIV/AIDS. This study looks at how socialisation of young women living in a peri-urban community in Malawi has changed and how this change has influenced their capacity to negotiate safe sex. The study found that although socialisation had changed and had some impact on increasing female scholars efficacy with regard to their education, they still remain constrained by their social status in a patriarchal context. Through the adapting of the curriculum, schools address issues of gender inequality and the changing roles of women. However, these institutions continue to remain male dominated. This poses an obstacle as they reinforce gender roles of subordinate women and in doing so diminish the impact of the new curriculum. Gender roles continue to make it difficult for women to practice agency in particular with regard to negotiating safe sex. In instances where women have suggested condom use, they have been subjected to domestic abuse or faced the withdrawal of financial support for a given period. This study proposes a continuum of agency ranging from submissive to autonomous. It suggests that women are never entirely submissive or autonomous. They either practice agency by manipulating their boundaries or pushing their boundaries. This study revealed that although there have been significant changes in the process of socialisation, women’s ability to practice agency is considerably limited. Where it is exercised, it often results in separating from their spouses. However, in spite of all the difficulties, women do practice agency on various levels. It also revealed that scholars are developing agency with regards to education. However, social structures continue to reinforce patriarchy. This creates contradictory messages which the scholars are not always able to negotiate.
Dissertation (MSocSci)--University of Pretoria, 2013.