Understanding gender, sexuality and HIV risk in HEIs: narratives of international post-graduate students

26 February 2014

Thirty years into the HIV&AIDS pandemic, the world is still striving to reduce new HIV infections and halve AIDS related deaths by 2015. However, sub-Saharan Africa still faces the burden of HIV infections as governments and private institutions try out different prevention strategies (UNAIDS 2011). Several scholars have argued that multiple concurrent sexual partnerships (MCSP) pose the greatest risk for new HIV infections. Furthermore, research has also linked MCSPs to mobility and migration. This paper draws from the project ‘Sexual identities and HIV&AIDS: an exploration of international university students’ experiences” which employed memory work, photo-voice, drawings and focus group discussions with ten (5male and 5female) Post Graduate international students at a South African university. Focussing on the data produced through memory work, I present university students’ lived-experience narratives of mobility and migration in relation to how they perceive MCSPs and HIV risk. The findings show how students construct their gendered and sexual identities in a foreign context and how these constructions intersect with their choices of sexual relationships and HIV risk. I argue from the findings that Higher Education Institutions should be treated as high risk ‘spaces of vulnerability’ and hence health support services and HIV intervention programming policies should be geared towards addressing such vulnerabilities in order to create sustainable teaching and learning environments that allow for all students to explore their full capabilities.