Gender, Power, and HIV Vulnerability
Before reading a research article by Panchanadeswaran et al., (2007), titled “Using the Theory of Gender and Power to Examine Experiences of Partner Violence, Sexual Negotiation, and Risk of HIV/AIDS among Economically Disadvantaged Women in Southern India”, I used to believe that women’s vulnerability to HIV was universal because they face almost similar gender and power obstacles. I did not know that gender inequalities in all its spheres increases women’s vulnerability to HIV, especially as it relates to intimate partner violence and assertiveness in negotiating for safe sex practices, where married women are most vulnerable.
Economic constraints affecting women originate from the sexual division of labor that accords men a higher participation, status, and remuneration in the work environment as compared to women. It creates an economic imbalance that can force women to be financially dependent on men, thus creating vulnerability in all spheres. Poverty is the main factor forcing most women to accept sex work as the only means of earning a livelihood for themselves and their children. The high poverty level increases women’s vulnerability to HIV infection, and varying levels of violence. Economic dependence forces women to forgo adoption of health-protective behaviors, including ignoring their partner’s infidelity or violent behavior
Sexual division of power creates disparities that increase women’s vulnerability to HIV. This includes physical exposure factors, for instance, violence perpetuated by an intimate partner, and other high-risk behaviors. Other contributing factors include use of alcohol, women’s perceived lack of control in intimate relationships, and their low assertive skills to negotiate condom use with the male partners. Although alcohol use among women reduces their assertiveness in negotiating condom use, alcohol use by male partners is of serious concern as it reduces women’s resistance to unwanted sex. Drunken male partners facing such resistance often make accusations of infidelity as the reason their female partners are not cooperating. Since such accusations are normally followed by physical violence, women are usually compelled to practice unsafe sex that increases their vulnerability to HIV.
Women have also accepted cultural norms that perpetuate power disparities and prevent them from embracing mechanisms that reduce their vulnerability to HIV. The women’s acceptance of male violence as a normative has encouraged physical violence, especially when questioning extra-marital relationships or negotiating safe sex practices. Some women have internalized harmful cultural norms, for instance, acceptance of male extra-marital relationships.
The authors noted that women engaging in high demand/low control work environment, such as sex work that has high risk for violence, were sometimes better capable of asserting and protecting themselves than married women because of their strong informal support networks.
Panchanadeswaran, S., Johnson, S., Go, V., Srikrishnan, A., Sivaram, S., Solomon, S., & Celentano, D. (2007). Using the theory of gender and power to examine experiences of partner violence, sexual negotiation, and risk of HIV/AIDS among economically disadvantaged women in southern India. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 15(3-4), 155-178.