HIV/AIDS in Latin America - The Feminization of HIV/AIDS

Gender, Power and its Implications concerning the Epidemic

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009

12 Pages, Grade: 1.00


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Women and HIV/AIDS in Latin America

3. Machismo and Marianismo – Gender Constructions in Latin America
3.1 Machismo
3.2 Marianismo
3.3 Implications for Women and for Programs and Organsisations concerning HIV/AIDS

4. Conclusio


1. Introduction

Around the world, in the last decades since the appearing of HIV/AIDS, the prevalence of women infected by HIV is raising faster than the prevalence of men. Although this development had been recognized soon, it was not posible to stop it.

On the basis of these facts, I will have a closer look at the situation of women in Latin America concerning the disease and Iwant to review the “feminization” of HIV/AIDS.

Furthermore, I will give an overview of two Gender constructing concepts of Latin America, Machismo and Marianismo, which I seek to challenge in its impacts on (the development of) programs and organsisations concerning the epidemic, and following, in women.

2. Women and HIV/AIDS in Latin America

UNAIDS announced in its AIDS Epidemic Update 2007, that the proportions of women living with HIV in Latin America is steadily growing. (UNAIDS 2007: 3)

The estimated number of people living with HIV in Latin America has been 1.400.000 in 2001 and 1.700.000 in 2007, which remains relatively stable at about 0.5%. Nevertheless, while in 2001 about 450.000 of female population (15+) had been infected, in 2007 the number was already at 550.000, which is an increase of the epidemic in women from 32.1% to 32.4%. Although it doesn`t seem to be much at first sight, this probably results in the dramatically growth of infected children (0-14), from 36.000 in 2001 to 44.000 in 2007, which means an increase of about more than 20%. (UNAIDS 2008a: 230f)

According to UNAIDS, the main reason for this development is the transmission of the virus by men - who are likely to have been infected through injecting drug use, or during unprotected paid sex or sex with other men - to the female partners. Futhermore, the transmission in Latin America is primarily seen to “occur among populations at higher risk of exposure”. (UNAIDS 2007: 31) This implicates an inner contradiction for me, as exposure demands a degree of posibility to reject from it, which is in many cases not always feasible.

In the literature transmission is refered to activity or, as one can see, mostly to men and their risk-behaviour, which seems quite plausible. In contrary, prevention and prevention programs focus mostly on “vulnerable” groups, which somehow nearly always allude to women, and high-risk groups like Injecting Drug Users (IDUs), Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and Female Sex Workers (FSWs). (UNAIDS 2008a:213)

This appears to me partly as an obstacle to decrease the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, as in this way one of the main reasons of the spreading of the disease happens to be somehow excluded: the hetero and/or (hidden) bisexual man.

So, consequential, for me talking about the “feminization” of HIV/AIDS in Latin America should also include talking about and reflecting Gender, as well as Gender constructions and concepts in and of Latin America, especially concerning programs to decrease the prevalence of the epidemic.

3. Machismo and Marianismo – Gender Constructions in Latin America

On the Basis of the feminist groundswell around the 1970s - during the early research on Gender in Latin America, conducted on, by an for women - two concepts gained popularity in the scientific world: Machismo and its “counterpart” or compensatory complex Marianismo. (Chant 2003: 6ff)

In this chapter I seek to give an overview of these two concepts. I will further analyse possible implications deriving from them, on programs and organisations concerning HIV/AIDS, and following on womens health.

3.1 Machismo

„If there is one term which is unambiguously associated with Latin America, it is the term macho, and its derivates machismo and machista.“ (Melhuus/Stolen 1996: 14)

Machismo is seen as the epitome of (exaggerated) masculinity, which is conceived as something that men are not born with, but must constantly earn. Among the characterisation of the term Machismo, the basic tenor lies in the conviction of power and control over women, as well as over other men. (Chant 2003: 14)

Nevertheless, in early works on Gender in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, the focus had been on its impact on women, emphasizing the beliefs in male primacy, in man`s rights to control women, as well as in male strength and (sexual) potency. This was seen as contributing to a polarisation of Gender roles and as providing cultural legitimation for abuse of women. Furthermore, men, or more precisely Machos, had been described as “irresponsible husband” and “distant father”, which is a picture that has been soon obsolete. (Chant 2003: 14f)

Work on men has helped to deconstruct some of the stereotypes which were associating men with power and women with powerlessness, but it is to mention that stereoptypes usually do have some ground in practice. Male domination and/or mistreatmentof women is evident, as well as the reference of particular modes of behaviour to Machismo, by both man and women. (Chant 2003: 14 and 16)

3.2 Marianismo

“Among the characteristics of this ideal are semidivinity, moral superiority, and spiritual strength. This spiritual strength engender abnegation, that is infinite capacity for humility and sacrifice.” (Stevens 1973: 94)

The appearance of Marianismo in the Gender literature is normally associated with Evelyn Stevens. (Zuckerhut 2008) It is seen as emerged during the colonialism in Latin America, through the influence of the Catholic Church, and has its roots in the worship of the Virgin Mary.

Marianismo stands for idealized femininity, which emphasises the spiritual and moral superiority to men. This again was used, stated Stevens (1973: 94), and contributed to legitimate the subordinate domestic and societal role of women.

Marianismo implicates for them also the “obligation” to remain sexually pure and abstain from sexual activity - in contrary to Machismo for the male population - unless for becoming pregnant, although she should also be submissive to the demands of the men. As their connection with childbirth, a “unique opportunity to fulfill God`s will”, was perceived to bridge the natural and supernatural worlds, women receive a higher status in the if they have children and are caring mothers. (Chant 2003: 10; Stevens 1973: 94; Zuckerhut 2008)

3.3 Implications for women and for Programs and Organisations concerning HIV/AIDS

Educar un hombre es educar un individuo, educar una mujer es educar una familia .“[1] Puebla, Mexico

As mentioned before, most HIV/AIDS prevention programs and NGOs focus on “vulnerable” groups, which somehow nearly always allude to women, and high-risk groups like Injecting Drug Users (IDUs), Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and Female Sex Workers (FSWs). (UNAIDS 2008a: 213)

Concerning women, prevention-strategies focus on their vulnerability, which are given on the one hand through biological factors, and on the other hand through societal factors, as their often inferior position in society which translates into their sexual relationship. The result is, in regard to HIV/AIDS, a two to four times higher transmission from men to women than vice versa. (Red de Salud de Las Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe 2001: 32)

The still existing picture of the stereotypes, especially Machismo per se and the often secret sexual contacts between men are playing a grave role in the endangering of womens health, and further the health of their (unborn) children. (Galanti 2003: 180ff; Lampe 1999: 27; Marín 2003: 186; Moreno 2007: 340ff)

Due to the two Gender constructions Marianismo and Machismo, the sexuality of women and the sexuality of men are seen to be lived different. While women would learn to be monogamous, silent, passive and subjected to men and at their disposal, men on the contrary would experience that promiscuity, dominance and aggression concerning sexuality are the right behaviour. (Lampe 1999: 27)

As a womens body is perceived as belonging to others for providing pleasure, offering care and giving life without much consideration for her own, the position to influence the sexual behaviour of their partner of husband is not the best. (Red de Salud de Las Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe 2001: 32)

This complicated and still complicates the promotion of condoms. Gracia Violeta, a 27 year old Bolivian refered to this problem: “How are you going to convince a man to put on a condom without him hitting you,thinking you have a boyfriend on your side? How can a woman manage that” (World Vision International 2004: 109) This reaction of men also results because of the former promotion campaigns for condoms, which were adressing primarily FSWs. Mostly, if women dare to negotiate safer-sex and using a condom, they are exposed to violence, which includes also sexual violence. (Lampe 1999: 27)

One possibility to, not really bypass this problem, but at least to widen the womens more independent scope of action and security for themselves, could be the femidom, or female condom.


[1] “Education of a man is education of an individual, education of a woman is education of a family.”

Excerpt out of 12 pages


HIV/AIDS in Latin America - The Feminization of HIV/AIDS
Gender, Power and its Implications concerning the Epidemic
University of Vienna  (Institut der Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie an der Universität Wien)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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HIV/AIDS, Latin America, Feminization of HIV/AIDS, Gender and Power, Machismo, Marianismo, HIV/AIDA prevention, HIV/AIDS Stigma
Quote paper
BA Nora Demattio (Author), 2009, HIV/AIDS in Latin America - The Feminization of HIV/AIDS , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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