Multi-Dimensional Forms of Poverty Experienced by Unemployed HIV-positive Mothers Living in Khayelitsha

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University of Cape Town

For the millions of unemployed South Africans, poverty is a daily experience. However, traditional economic measures of poverty are failing to provide policy makers with a full picture of the lived experience of poverty. Through two years of participant observation at Philani Nutrition Center, conversations and home visits with local outreach workers, and in-depth interviews with five HIVpositive unemployed mothers in Khayelitsha, this paper explores the multiple dimensions of poverty experienced by these mothers and their children. Using class and gender-based theories of structural oppression, this paper argues that these mothers are marginalised from the labour market and are members of a distinct unemployed underclass. Three main findings emerged from this study. One, the state of chronic unemployment has profound effects on both the material and emotional wellbeing of these women and their families. As a result of the years of race- and class-based discrimination, their opportunities to improve their situations are minimal. Two, the presence of HIV illness serves to reinforce the continued reproduction of this disadvantage through its debilitating physical and social effects. The mother's own HIV illness, as well as the intensive care required by HIV-positive children, limits a mother's ability to work and ensure the child's wellbeing. Three, the structure of patriarchy further ties mothers to their domestic and childcare responsibilities, often without the support of their partners. Unemployment and insufficient social assistance increases their pressure to earn an income in addition to fulfilling daily household responsibilities. It is important to understand how poverty manifests itself in the lives of these women and their children in order to design poverty reduction strategies that address the many dimensions of their experience. The structural causes for their poverty need to be recognised in order to motivate meaningful changes in our society, with the goal of creating an enabling environment for these mothers. This will then provide the mothers with the space in which to transcend their current position in the underclass and ensure the many aspects of wellbeing for themselves and their children.