Gender norms in South Africa: Implications for HIV and pregnancy prevention among African and Indian women students at a South African tertiary institution

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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In post-Apartheid South Africa, women are constitutionally guaranteed protections and freedoms that were previously unknown to them. These freedoms may have positive implications for women's ability to negotiate sexual protection with partners and hence prevent unintended pregnancy and decrease their risk of HIV. Among tertiary institution students, who are a relatively 'privileged' group, there is little information on gender norms that might shape responses to HIV-prevention programmes. To elicit gender norms regarding women's and men's roles, condom and contraceptive use, sexual communication and sexual pleasure, we conducted 10 semi-structured focus group discussions with African and Indian female tertiary institution students in order to understand how norms might be used to buttress HIV- and pregnancy-prevention. Participants reported dramatic changes in the structure of gender norms and relations with the formal recognition of women's rights in the post-Apartheid context. These generational shifts in norms are supported by other research in South Africa. At the same time, women recognized the co-existence of traditional constructions of gender that operate to constrain women's freedom. The perceived changes that have taken place provide an entry point for intervention, particularly for reinforcing emerging gender norms that promote women's protection against unintended pregnancy and HIV/STIs.