Societies and cultures provide individuals with the meanings,
practices, and institutions that both inform – and are informed
by – their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Societies and cultures
also attach values to different demographic variables, like race and
gender, and determine how resources are distributed. In these ways,
sociocultural factors interact with behavioral, biological, psychological,
and demographic factors to shape people's risks of giving and getting
economic resources are concentrated in a few places--for example, the
United States. However, illnesses like HIV/AIDS flourish in places with
few economic resources. Currently, rates of HIV mortality are declining
the United States, in part because many (although not all) Americans
have access to adequate health care and risk information. Also, the
United States has enough educated people, technology, and money to discover
and manufacture anti-HIV drugs. In other parts of the world that don't
have access to adequate knowledge, resources, and technology, however,
rates of HIV/AIDS are climbing. CITES? OTHER
READINGS ON THIS TOPIC?
Stigma and Discrimination
Different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and HIV
disease statuses (positive or negative) are not inherently good or bad.
Rather, all societies and cultures construct attitudes toward these
different groups. Those groups that are less valued, such as racial/ethnic
minorities, women, homosexuals, and HIV+ people, are considered stigmatized.
Within a society, people are more likely to discriminate
against members of stigmatized groups. People who have been stigmatized
or discriminated against are often more likely to have greater risk
factors for HIV/AIDS.
Gender Roles and Inequalities
Gender roles are a society's ideas about what is "masculine"
and "feminine" and are a powerful feature of social organization.
They not only describe how men and women are expected to behave, but
also influence power relations, decision-making authority, and individual
To ensure that women are dependent and inexperienced
and that men are independent and experienced, younger women in many
cultures marry older, more sexually experienced men. This practice
puts the young wives at risk of acquiring HIV and other STI/STDs from
their husbands (7).
Girls may also be discouraged from seeking the education
and employment that would give them the knowledge to protect themselves
against HIV/AIDS (7).
Due to their lack of power within sexual relationships,
many women find it difficult to negotiate for safer sex with their
partners (8). Many gay men also experience difficulties requesting
that their sex partners use condoms (9).
Growing economic inequality and eroding social support
have driven many women into commercial sex work to support their families
Specific cultural practices that relate to sex
Many cultures circumcise young women and men as a
rite of passage into adulthood. When a number of people are circumcised
together, using shared razors or knives, the young women and men are
at risk of transmitting and contracting HIV via the blood on the unsterilized
Many cultures also value "dry sex," which
requires that women dry their vaginas using special powders, herbs,
or douches. These practice increase rates of HIV transmission, however,
because dry sex is more likely to lead to the cuts and tears through
which HIV infected fluids may pass.
1. Albertyn, C. Prevention, treatment, and care in the context of human
rights. Presentation at the Expert Group Meeting on the HIV/AIDS Pandemic
and its Gender Implications, Windhoek, Namibia, 2000.
2. Aggleton, P. Khan, S. and Parker, R. Men who have sex
with men. In: Gibney, L., DiCelmente, R., and Vermund, S. (eds.) Preventing
HIV in Developing Countries: Biomedical and behavioural approaches.
New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers, 1999.
3. Feinstein, N. and Prentice, B. The UNAIDS Gender and
AIDS Almanac. Los Altos, CA: Sociometrics Corporation, 2001.
4. World Health Organization (WHO). Integrating gender
into HIV/AIDS programmes, review paper for expert consultation 3 –
5 June 2002. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2002.
5. Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS). Gender
and HIV/AIDS: Taking stock of research and programmes. UNAIDS Best Practice
Collection. Geneva, Switzerland: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS,
6. Türmen, T. Gender and HIV/AIDS. International
Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 82: 411-418, 2003.
7. Commonwealth Secretariat. HIV/AIDS: An Inherent Gender
Issue. London, United Kingdom: The Commonwealth Secretariat/ UNIFEM,
8. Kippax, S., Crawford, J., Davis, M., Rodden, P. &
Dowsett, G. Sustaining safe sex: A longitudinal sample of homosexual
men. AIDS, 7, 257-263, 1993.
9. Weiss, E., Whelan, D., and Gupta, G. Vulnerability
and Opportunity: Adolescents and HIV/AIDS in the developing world. Washington,
DC: International Center for Research on Women, 1996.
10. Mathur, S., Greene, M., & Malhotra, A. Too Young
to Wed: The Lives, Rights, and Health of Young Married Girls. Washington,
DC: International Center for Research on Women, 2003.