Title page for ETD etd-07202011-134216

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author Thege, Britta
Email britta.thege@fh-kiel.de
URN etd-07202011-134216
Document Title Women’s agency in intimate partnerships in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic : a case study in a rural South African community
Degree DPhil
Department Sociology
Advisor Name Title
Prof J Grobbelaar Co-Supervisor
Prof A Kritzinger Supervisor
  • partnership quality
  • patriarchal code of respect
  • South African rural black women
  • agency
  • intimate partnership
  • sexuality
  • male sex-right
  • case study
  • qualitative content analysis
Date 2009-09-01
Availability restricted
The South African HIV/AIDS pandemic exposed the hegemonic intersection of gender, power and sexuality. While numerous studies have focused on gender dynamics in sexual relations, the issue of sexual agency has barely been addressed in South Africa. Rural black women’s agency in intimate partnership is a profoundly marginalised researched area. This study aimed to explore South African rural black women’s agency in intimate partnerships at a time of transition and amidst the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It explores whether there is some empirical evidence for what is a common perception, namely the lack of agency that rural black women have in negotiating their sexual relationships and the impact that this has on the risk of HIV/AIDS. It also sought to find out whether there was any indication of transformation to be found in the gender relations among different age groups. This empirical study applied the case study method drawing on data collected from individual and focus group interviews. To address the social hierarchy of men over women a hybridised theoretical framework that follows in the tradition of radical feminists was applied. This research aimed to make a contribution from a feminist perspective that looks critically at the processes of female subordination and control. Women had agency in partnerships deemed good whereas they lacked agency in partnerships characterised by overt power or abuse. Violence is a major constraint to women’s agency. Yet, the capacity for agency has always been restricted by the sexist norms and values constitutive of the structures of the community. Because of the powerful cultural template of male sex-right in marriage it is the marital status that constrains rural black women’s agency in non-violent relationships the most. Male sex-right is inscribed in the patriarchal code of respect together with other rules of obedience restricting female sexual agency. Although younger women in this study showed greater discontent with socio-cultural norms guiding their lives and provided accounts which displayed having greater choices to negotiate sex and condom use, there were indications that the use of condoms would cease if a relationship turned into a marriage and that refusing sex to a husband was untenable.

© 2009 University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Thege, B 2009, Women’s agency in intimate partnerships in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic : a case study in a rural South African community, DPhil thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-07202011-134216/ >


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