Personal views about womanhood amongst women living with HIV in Botswana

Michelle Marian Schaan, Myra Taylor, Nontombi Gungqisa, Richard Marlink

Publication Date: 02/01/2016

The social construction of womanhood in Africa can be said to have two central defining elements: being a wife and being a mother. The interplay between HIV and these elements is not well understood outside of prevention efforts. We conducted a qualitative study of womanhood in Botswana; specifically the sexual and reproductive lives of women living with HIV. Twelve focus-group discussions were held with 61 women, with a median age of 35, taking anti-retroviral therapy. Major themes describing womanhood, before and after HIV diagnosis, were identified using grounded theory strategies. Findings illustrate that womanhood is synonymous with motherhood and that women are expected to have sex in order to please a partner. HIV was said to create a barrier to fulfilling these expectations as it caused anxiety over disclosing one’s HIV status and/or infecting the partner. The sense of pride and dignity that traditionally accompanied pregnancy was said to be lost and a common refrain was concern about passing HIV to an unborn child, having pregnancy complications or advancing HIV infection. Fear, shame and stigma play a large role in these negative perceptions. Interventions to address stigma, societal views of women and the integration of holistic family planning into HIV care are needed.