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Cult Health Sex. 2012;14(7):795-810. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2012.697191. Epub 2012 Jul 9.

Sharing the trousers: gender roles and relationships in an HIV-prevention trial in Zimbabwe.

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Womens Global Health Imperative, RTI International, San Francisco, USA.


Male and female gender roles and inequalities are important in contributing to the disproportionate burden of HIV experienced by women in sub-Saharan Africa. Within the context of an HIV prevention trial, we aimed to describe and understand male partner influence on women's use of HIV-prevention methods. Our presumption was not that regressive gender norms prevailed - rather, that a wide range of gendered attitudes and dynamics would be expressed among couples. Data from 16 focus groups with Zimbabwean female trial participants and their male partners and 4 in-depth couples interviews were collected, and form the basis of the analysis. Findings offer descriptions of how couples have adapted techniques for negotiating modern household economies and sexual decision-making in a manner that both preserves traditional gender roles, while accommodating women's entrance into new domains such as the workforce or an HIV-prevention trial. Women's agency to introduce novel female-initiated-method use into her intimate relationships is described. Men and women's accounts of method introduction and use suggest different perceptions about the locus of sexual decision making. The study provides unique insight into a gendered context that is dynamic yet sensitive to change, which in turn can provide useful information to more appropriately guide HIV-prevention activities in this setting.

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