9 Ways Gender Norms Impact HIV

9 Ways Gender Norms Impact HIV

Dominant gender norms increase vulnerability to HIV infection for women, men, and transgender people, and affect people living with HIV. There are gendered differences in risk-taking in sexual behaviour, testing behaviour, fear of disclosure, gender-based violence, self-stigma, and adherence. Often masculinity norms dictate men should have many sexual partners, increasing their risk. Dive into 9 ways how these societal and individual norms unfold into increased HIV prevalence. 

Aidsfonds' renewed Big Picture (2020) is out now! Access the full guide on how to develop a gender transformative approach in HIV programming, filled with approaches, exercises, case studies and loads more. Download guide

1. Expectations for men

Men may be expected to be sexually active from a young age, may gain status by having more sexual partners, and may believe sexual desires must be satisfied. An emphasis on men being self-reliant and unemotional may lead them not to seek information and help on sexual issues, and not to prioritise caring for their own health. Furthermore, economic needs and the gendered division of labour may lead to their long-term migration for work. These gender norms and attitudes act against prevention methods and health-seeking behaviour, making men and their sexual partners more susceptible to HIV infection.

Mannen praten met elkaar Mannen praten met elkaar

2. Expectations for women

Women may be expected to have a single sexual partner, who is usually older than them, and so more sexually experienced and with a higher likelihood of being HIV- positive. They may be expected to have sex on his demand, and without the right to refuse sex or to insist on condom use.

3. Lack of health check ups

The expectation that women should be faithful to one partner contributes to making women more reluctant than men to be checked and treated for sexually transmitted infections. Untreated infections greatly increase the risk of passing or acquiring HIV.

Health check Health check

4. Female genital mutilation

In some settings, female genital cutting is seen as an important part of becoming a woman. The practice increases vulnerability to HIV infection to women who have experienced such cutting in three ways: at the time of cutting (if unsterilised tools are shared); during sex (because it leads to higher likelihood of tearing and bleeding); and in terms of type of sex (less willingness and ability to easily have vaginal sex may lead to more violent sex, or anal sex). 

5. Violence to discipline

In their gender role of decision-makers with control over female relatives, men may use violence to discipline women and children. Women and girls in inequitable relationships and women who experience violence from their intimate partners are more likely to become HIV positive.

6. Unsafe sex work

The gendered division of labour, amongst other reasons, also means women are more likely to sell or trade sex as part of or for all of their livelihood. While sex work can be done safely, circumstances can lead to a higher risk of contracting HIV. For example because sex work is criminalised in many countries or due to the extremely high levels violence sex workers face.

Sex workers Sex workers

7. Economic dependence and fear of violence

Economic dependence and fear of violence may stop a woman who is HIV- positive from disclosing her status to her partner, and therefore from taking action to seek care and support or to prevent transmission to him.

8. Lack of sexual reproductive health access

In many settings, it is important for men and women to have children, which creates the need to have unprotected sex and undermines the use of condoms. HIV programmes do not often address the sexual and reproductive needs of couples, including how couples comprising one HIV-positive and one HIV-negative person (‘serodiscordant couples’) can conceive and avoid HIV transmission. Moreover, parenting roles are embedded in rigid gender norms.


9. Men less likely to seek healthcare

Men may be less likely to seek healthcare. Whereas women are often already in the health system for their reproductive health. In many settings, men are not included in antenatal care. This means men find out their HIV status later, which has many negative consequences. It also means that often women find out first and have to disclose first. Sometimes this leads to them being blamed for bringing HIV into the house, with potentially violent consequences.

Read more about 8 Days for Gender Equality

For 8 days, from Zero Discrimination Day (1 March) to International Women's Day (8 March), Aidsfonds raised awareness for gender equality with our ​8 Days for Gender Equality Campaign. Each day we covered strategic action that can be taken against gender inequality fueling the AIDS epidemic. We invite everyone to help spread awareness. Join the movement on Twitter by sharing your own experience and approaches on gender equality and HIV using the hashtag #GenderEqualityandHIV. 

Aidsfonds' renewed Big Picture (2020) is out now! Access the full guide on how to develop a gender transformative approach in HIV programming, filled with approaches, exercises, case studies and loads more. Download guide

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