Patricia Schwärzler: Dynamics of social relations and sexual practices in the context of HIV/AIDS in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
PhD-project, Swiss TPH, University of Basel
Although West Africa has remarkably low prevalence rates, AIDS is a burning issue to the population in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso (national HIV prevalence 1.6%). National HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are based on Euro-American representations of the body and society with the corresponding biomedical terminology and social and moral concepts. Due to a multitude of additional actors providing information (NGOs, religious communities, media), interpretations of HIV/AIDS are manifold and influence the thinking, speaking and acting of people about this illness.
This PhD project aims at a better understanding and contextualisation of the generation- and genderspecific narratives on social and heterosexual relationships of women and men in their confrontation with HIV/AIDS. An emphasis is placed on adolescents.
We have been working with residents of secteur 29, a periurban neighborhood of Ouagadougou. We opted for a triangulation of qualitative methods combining focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with members of the general population, interviews with representatives of religious communities and health facilities, and observation of and participation in social life in the neighborhood.
Sexual practices are social activities and thus are subject to social change and to negotiations of differing positions between both old and young and men and women. In secteur 29 different models of relationships and various discourses on and practices of sexuality coexist. Elderly people refer to pre-colonial ‘traditional’ institutions controlling premarital adolescent sexuality. They complain about their decay when talking about current sexual practices of adolescents in the city. Most old people believe this decay is responsible for the spread of HIV, while especially blaming young girls. For young girls and boys, their narrated models and practices – ranging from abstinence to multiple partnerships – are an expression of the quest for (new) representations of femininity and masculinity in the context of HIV/AIDS. Those are related to the customary, cultural, social, religious and economic context that encompasses abstinence, arranged marriage, polygamy and specific forms of socially acceptable extramarital relationships.
The issues addressed can be adapted for applications in development projects. This study is further able to inform public health efforts in regards to family planning, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, as well as sex education for adolescents and even the application of the new family law in Burkina Faso. The reluctant use of condoms by the population is due to various reasons, among others, to myths built around this main instrument of HIV prevention.