Fear of sexually transmitted infections among women with male migrant partners – relationship to oscillatory migration pattern and risk-avoidance behaviour

12 Oct 2011

BACKGROUND: In South Africa, former apartheid laws encouraged rural males seeking employment to migrate to urban areas, moving weekly, monthly or annually between their rural families and urban workplaces. The combination of the migrant labour system and long family separations caused an explosion of serious health consequences, among others sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the migrant population. OBJECTIVE: To describe some correlates of male migration patterns for the rural women left behind, especially the fear of STIs that this engendered in them and their risk-avoidance behaviour. Setting and subjects. In KwaZulu-Natal, 208 prenatal patients who were partners of oscillating male migrant workers were interviewed to determine their demographic and behavioural characteristics, and their fear of STIs. RESULTS: Thirty-six per cent of the rural women said that they were afraid of contracting STIs from their returning migrant partners. Women who saw their partners infrequently were more fearful of STI transmission, and were less able to have sexual communication. However, almost none of the women protected themselves, while only 8% used condoms, primarily for contraceptive purposes. CONCLUSIONS: These results reflect the gender-based power relationships of South African male migrants and their rural partners, the social and economic dependency of the women on their migrant partners, and the women’s social responsibility to bear children. The results point to the need to go beyond interventions that simply seek to modify behaviour without altering the forces that promote risk taking and discourage risk reduction, and the need to develop appropriate interventions to curb STIs and decrease HIV.