Power and the association with relationship quality in South African couples: implications for HIV/AIDS interventions

SOURCE: Social Science & Medicine
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
TITLE AUTHOR(S): A.A.Conroy, N.McGrath, H.Van Rooyen, V.Hosegood, M.O.Johnson, K.Fritz, A.Marr, T.Ngubane, L.A.Darbes
DEPARTMENT: Human and Social Development (HSD)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 9167

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Power imbalances within sexual relationships have significant implications for HIV prevention in sub-Saharan Africa. Little is known about how power influences the quality of a relationship, which could be an important pathway leading to healthy behavior around HIV/AIDS. This paper uses data from 448 heterosexual couples (896 individuals) in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa who completed baseline surveys from 2012 to 2014 as part of a couples-based HIV intervention trial. Using an actor-partner interdependence perspective, we assessed: (1) how both partners' perceptions of power influences their own (i.e., actor effect) and their partner's reports of relationship quality (i.e., partner effect); and (2) whether these associations differed by gender. We examined three constructs related to power (female power, male equitable gender norms, and shared power) and four domains of relationship quality (intimacy, trust, mutually constructive communication, and conflict). For actor effects, shared power was strongly and consistently associated with higher relationship quality across all four domains. The effect of shared power on trust, mutually constructive communication, and conflict were stronger for men than women. The findings for female power and male equitable gender norms were more mixed. Female power was positively associated with women's reports of trust and mutually constructive communication, but negatively associated with intimacy. Male equitable gender norms were positively associated with men's reports of mutually constructive communication. For partner effects, male equitable gender norms were positively associated with women's reports of intimacy and negatively associated with women's reports of conflict. Conclusions: Research and health interventions aiming to improving HIV-related behaviors should consider sources of shared power within couples and potential leverage points for empowerment at the couple level. Efforts solely focused on empowering women should also take the dyadic environment and men's perspectives into account to ensure positive relationship outcomes.