The literature on the South African family and its response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic is rife with accounts of men that reflect a deficit model of male involvement. Few acknowledge the historical, economic and social complexities of male involvement in family life. As the South African family undergoes demographic, social and economic transformation there is a need to describe the range of roles played by all household members, including men. This paper examines data collected over two and a half years from a small sample of households affected by HIV/AIDS in rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Non-participant observations were made during outreach visits by research staff to twenty households caring for at least one adult with disease symptoms indicative of TB or AIDS. We find that men are positively involved with their families and households in a wide range of ways. They care for patients and children, financially support immediate and extended family members and are present at home, thereby enabling women to work or support other households. As the qualitative data demonstrate, however, such activities are often not acknowledged. The dominant perception of both female respondents and research assistants continues to be that men are not caring for their families because they are irresponsible and profligate. We consider reasons why this disjuncture exists and how more men might be encouraged to fulfil such roles and activities as their families and households suffer the social and economic impacts of HIV/AIDS.
Social Science & Medicine (2006) 62 (10) 2411-2419 [doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.10.026]