Research articles

HIV in Harare: The role and relevance of social stigma

Published in: African Journal of AIDS Research
Volume 13, issue 4, 2014 , pages: 339–349
DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2014.961941
Author(s): Stephen O'BrienSchool of Humanities and Social Science, Australia, Alex BroomSchool of Social Science, Australia


HIV is a significant social, political and economic problem in Zimbabwe. However, few researchers have explored peoples’ experiences of living with HIV in that country. Drawing on 60 qualitative interviews conducted with Zimbabweans living in Harare in 2010, this paper focuses on how people from four different urban communities cope with HIV-related social stigma. To provide theoretical context to this issue, we utilised the ideas of Erving Goffman for exploring the individual experience of stigma and the concept of structural violence to understand stigma as a social phenomenon. This paper considers the relevance and role of stigma in the context of a country undergoing significant social, political and economic crisis. We investigated the strategies adopted by the Zimbabwean state and the influence of traditional and religious interpretations to appreciate the historical roots of HIV-related stigma. We took into account the ways in which the articulation of HIV with gender has caused women to experience stigma differently than men, and more intensely, and how grassroots activism and biomedical technologies have transformed the experience of stigma.

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