HIV Prevention on Farms

Project Archive

This project is working with farm workers in Hoedspruit, Limpopo to address gender issues, which are worsening the HIV and AIDS epidemic on farms.

Why Work with Farm Workers?

In South Africa, people who live and work on commercial farms have been identified as a highly mobile, vulnerable group. Research has identified alarming levels of unsafe sexual behaviour among farm workers where workers report extremely low levels of condom use and high levels of concurrent sexual partners. There are many factors increasing farm workers’ vulnerability to HIV infection including:

  • low knowledge of HIV and AIDS
  • poor living and working conditions on farms
  • extensive internal and cross-border migration
  • myths about HIV and AIDS, including a strong reported belief in witchcraft
  • low perceptions of risk of HIV infection, due partly to beliefs in traditional cures
  • high levels of transactional sex amongst young women.

Why focus on Gender?

The UN and others have recognised that the prevalence of unequal gender relations appears to be a major inhibitor to safer, healthier behaviour and is consequently a major cause of the spread of STIs, and HIV. Gender inequalities abound on farms where women are often employed as seasonal labourers. Their temporary employment means that female farm workers are constantly migrating between farms, have limited legal support, have limited access to health care services and are seldom reached by the few HIV and AIDS information campaigns targeting farm workers. 33% of female farm workers felt that there were no available means to protect themselves from HIV infection, or said they did not know how to protect themselves. Furthermore, being away from home, they must also deal with separation from their families, feelings of anonymity and loneliness and mental stress associated with the dangers and uncertainty of migration, which may increase the likelihood of engaging in unsafe sexual practices. At the start of the harvesting season, when young women come to the farms as temporary workers, it is not uncommon for male farm workers to have between three and five girlfriends. In addition, the occurrence of transactional sex appears to be very high with 52% of female workers reporting to have exchanged sex for goods. Abuse of power by male supervisors is another key factor in increasing women’s HIV vulnerability. In an environment where jobs are scarce, female farm workers will often have sex with the supervisor to secure employment for the harvesting season. This practice is so widespread and delivers such tangible short-term benefits that in many cases it is not considered abuse.

Strategy: Targeting Men

The project aims to build on the Men as Partners philosophy which is twofold:

  • to challenge the attitudes and behaviours held by men that compromise their own health and safety as well as the health and safety of women and children,
  • and to encourage men to become actively involved in responding to gender based violence and the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

The overall goal of this project is to mobilize farm workers, specifically men and supervisors, to become visible and outspoken advocates for gender equality and in so doing, prevent domestic and sexual violence and reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS on commercial farms. The project has set out to:

  • Develop a cadre of advocates for gender equality through the provision of training, technical assistance and regular support.
  • Enable the local organisation to implement and sustain a gender intervention through mentoring, training and technical support.
  • Develop and implement a series of activities that change men’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours, challenge sexism.
  • Realise a reduction in the number of reported incidences of sexual violence.
  • Promote the leadership of people living with HIV and AIDS and in so doing challenge stigma and promote men’s increased utilization of HIV services including VCT, ARV uptake and adherence and treatment of opportunistic infections.
  • Involve farm owners/managers to ensuring workplace practices are gender sensitive.

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