The long-term management and prevention of Zika virus requires understanding of reproductive and sexual health behaviours, including mechanisms of partnered decision-making. In their research “Performing Purity: Gendered Dynamics of reproductive decision making under threat of Zika in Peru,” the research team, led by Dr. Lucia Guerra-Reyes at the Indiana University School of Public Health – Bloomington, reported on a qualitative study conducted before the arrival of Zika in Iquitos, Peru.
They assessed existing patterns of reproductive decision-making among partnered men and women in a community under threat of Zika and discussed how these may impact Zika prevention in the long-term. They used a rapid qualitative assessment methodology, including in-depth semi-structured interviews with partnered women (28) and men (21).
Deeply unequal gender role expectations limit discussion of reproductive decisions until after a first child is born. Women needed to perform a domestic ‘of-the-house’ role to be considered suitable partners, leading them to hide their knowledge of sexual and reproductive health. Condoms symbolise risk and are unused with partners in committed relationships.
A shared perception that men must take care of female partner’s sexual health, translates into male sexual and reproductive preferences overcoming female desires. Existing decision-making patterns lead to an increased risk of Zika exposure. Long-term response should expand Zika virus information and preventive messages to men and young people, in addition to engaging with broader societal challenges to gender inequity.