February 6, 2011

HIV/AIDS stigma in Africa: Is the church part of the problem or part of the solution?

By Catherine Campbell, Morten Skovdal and Andrew Gibbs
Institute of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science

HIV/AIDS-related stigma is one of the key drivers of the AIDS epidemic in many settings. Stigma prevents many people from seeking proper information about how to protect their sexual health, accessing services when they are ill from AIDS, and adhering to their medication.

Where does the stigma come from?
Stigma is rooted in a number of factors. Chief amongst these is a sense of social embarrassment about sex – closely related to conservative social moralities inherent in many societies. Such moralities play a key role in the social control of women and young people by adult men.

This is often manifested in social systems in which female sexuality is strictly controlled by husbands or boyfriends, and where young people are expected to remain celibate. The latter is often an unrealistic expectation; there are few cultures and contexts in which youth do not engage in some form of sexual activity, albeit often in secret. Women are expected to remain faithful to their husbands.