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Disabling sexualities: Exploring the impact of the intersection of HIV, disability and gender on the sexualities of women in Zambia

Anna Wickenden, Stephanie Nixon, Karen K. Yoshida
African Journal of Disability | Vol 2, No 1 | a50 | DOI: | © 2013 Anna Wickenden, Stephanie Nixon, Karen K. Yoshida | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 December 2012 | Published: 31 July 2013

About the author(s)

Anna Wickenden, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
Stephanie Nixon, International Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation, University of Toronto, Canada
Karen K. Yoshida, Department of Physical Therapy and Graduate Department of Rehabilitation Science, University of Toronto, Canada

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Background: Women with a disability are often characterised as a homogenous social group consigned to a cultural stereotype with assumptions of dependence, asexuality and gender neutrality. Furthermore, there is a void of research about the experience of people with disabilities following diagnosis with HIV. Little is known about how HIV diagnosis intersects with disability and gender and how it shapes the experiences of intimacy and gender roles of those negotiating this intersection.

Objective: The objective of this study was to explore how HIV, disability and gender shape the perspectives of HIV-positive women with disabilities regarding intimacy and gender roles.

Methods: Twelve women in Lusaka, Zambia were recruited for in-depth semi-structured interviews to explore their experiences of having a disability and living with HIV. Interviews were conducted in English, Bemba, Nyanja and Zambian sign language. Descriptive and thematic analyses were conducted, followed by in-depth gender analyses of data relating to intimacy and gender roles.

Results: Data analysis led to the identification of two main themes: the impact of HIV diagnosis on intimate relationships amongst the participants; and the disruption and renegotiation of gender roles. These findings demonstrate the loss of intimacy (often decided by the participants) and changes in women’s gender roles (infrequently decided by them).

Conclusions: The narrow approaches to sexuality and HIV that reinforce misconceptions and stereotypes need to change. In their place should be inclusive and disability and sex-positive approaches that are informed by the diverse realities of women’s lives. Further research is needed to develop stronger evidence of the impact of HIV and disability on gender roles and sexuality.


disability; gender; sexualities; stigma; HIV; AIDS


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