Lois Chingandu
Publication Date
June 1, 2007

Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS)

This 6-page paper looks at the phenomenon of "small houses" in Zimbabwe, and how they are a key driver of the HIV epidemic. According to the author, a "small house" is essentially a longer-term sexual relationship between a married man and another, usually younger, woman. "Small houses" are viewed by Zimbabwean men as a safer alternative to casual sex, which they understand to be high risk, because they see women in "small houses" as being faithful to them. Because of this perception, they are unlikely to use condoms. However, the report states that mutual fidelity is very rare, and that there are many factors that lead women in "small houses", their married male partners, and the men's wives to be unfaithful.

The author argues that "small houses" make women, who are already more vulnerable to HIV infection, even more so. She recommends several key steps to address concurrent relationships and the perceptions of safety that surround them. These recommendations include:

  • raising awareness of the risks associated with "small houses," and openly condemning the practice;
  • encouraging HIV testing;
  • increasing the use of condoms where concurrent relationships exist;
  • increasing access to women-controlled prevention methods;
  • empowering women to demand their right to safer sex and to deal with the consequences that might arise;
  • addressing cultural practices that put women at risk by engaging communities to identify solutions;
  • encouraging communities to support women's choice to leave high-risk relationships; and
  • increasing access to risk-reduction methods like male circumcision, as well as treatment for people living with HIV.

HealthDev website on October 10 2008.