Female Headship, Status and HIV/AIDS in Rural South Africa

Enid Schatz, University of Missouri at Columbia
Jill Williams, University of Colorado at Boulder

Female headship is often equated with vulnerability, crisis, disorganization, and by extension, low social status. Epidemic levels of HIV/AIDS in South Africa further compound these portraits of hopelessness. With increasing percentages of female-headed households, it is critical to examine the ways that financial and social status mediate female heads’ ability to cope with negative disruptions to their households—like an AIDS illness, death, or caring for orphaned children. Without diminishing the importance of the enormous responsibilities confronting female-heads, we argue that considerable heterogeneity in status and coping exists. We analyze qualitative interviews with female heads and members of their households in a rural community in South Africa to assess the role of female heads’ status in the coping capabilities of their households. Important policy implications emerge from the ways in which our typologies of status highlight individual and household vulnerabilities, but also illuminate the potential for agency and resilience.

Presented in Session 137: Family Structure and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa