Female-headed households contending with AIDS-related hardship in rural South Africa

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Mainstream research and the popular media often equate female-headship with household vulnerability, crisis, and disorganization. Epidemic levels of HIV/AIDS in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa compound this portrait of hopelessness. In South Africa, the impact of HIV/AIDS on households depends on race, class, and place. As female-headed households increase in number, we need to better understand how female-heads in poor rural areas contend with AIDS related challenges. We analyze qualitative interviews with 16 female heads and the members of their households in a rural community to examine the response to AIDS-related illness, death, or caring for orphaned children. Our analysis examines female-heads' financial and social resources and how these resources buffer against hardship in households affected by AIDS. We find considerable heterogeneity among rural female-headed households and their access to resources to combat AIDS-related hardship. Our findings have important policy implications both in terms of identifying individual and household vulnerabilities as well as leveraging the potential for resilience for female-heads in rural South African communities.

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