The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one of the greatest challenges facing economic and social development in sub-Saharan Africa. Women of reproductive age (15-49) have the greatest risk and prevalence of HIV in this region. Increased female vulnerability to HIV stems from limited access to health care and lack of autonomy to make decisions regarding sexual health and education. Using Demographic and Health Surveys data from nine sub-Saharan African countries, this paper found several key determinants in women’s empowerment and HIV status. Women who know more about sexual health knowledge in terms of contraceptive methods, fertility, and sexually transmitted diseases are more likely to be empowered than women with no understanding of sexual health. Similarly, women who are empowered are less likely to be HIV positive. This paper has important implications for future policies aiming to lower HIV incidence and improve women’s rights in sub-Saharan Africa.
From its earliest stages, the rhetoric of India’s HIV/AIDS discourse has maintained an explicit focus on transmission through contact with high-risk groups (i.e. migrant workers, sex workers, homosexuals, and intravenous drug users). India's intense focus on high-risk groups, and primary focus on the commercial sex work industry in HIV/AIDS research and prevention strategies exhibits critical voids in the academic literature, scholarship, and discourse surrounding the subject. Over the course of this research study I spent several months interviewing sex workers in Pune, India to gain a better understanding of the circumstances and social factors that contribute to women's involvement and participation in sex work and the sex work industry. Using my interviews, experiences in the red light district, and academic research on India's HIV/AIDS discourse I have attempted to highlight the uncritical use of the term “high-risk” in the rhetoric of India's HIV/AIDS discourse and to bring attention to the underlying social factors that create, maintain, and perpetuate entry into the sex work industry in India. The central focus of this research study is to displace female sex workers as the “vectors”, in epidemiological terms, of HIV/AIDS (Kadiyala and Barnett 2004: 1888) and highlight India’s patriarchal social structures that result in gender inequality and economic vulnerability for women as the social forces that lead women to participate in the commercial sex work industry, and hence to participate in high-risk behaviors and a high-risk industry that is significant in the spread of HIV/AIDS in India.