Senior Research Fellow,
WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention and Related Research
and Training Public Health Research Evaluation and Policy Cluster Faculty
of Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences; Deakin University,
221 Burwood Highway, Burwood.
Objective: To examine the knowledge and practices about HIV/AIDS among female Tanzanian commercial sex workers (CSWs) and assess the contextual dynamics that prevent safer sexual behaviours.
Method: The study used mixed methods and was implemented in two phases. Phase one assessed the knowledge and practices about HIV/AIDS among CSWs. Data were obtained with 54 CSWs, who were selected by using a snowball sampling approach. Semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with the CSWs were undertaken to allow the research participants to describe and discuss their lived realities as they perceive and experience them. In phase two, three discrete focus group discussions, each comprising 6-10 women, were carried out with 26 of the 54 CSWs who were interviewed in phase one.
Results: There was exploitation and inequity in the women’s lives due to the multiple and overlapping oppressions of poverty and patriarchy. Sexual violence was framed, legitimised and reinforced by structural and cultural inequities. Such exploitation impacted not only on CSWs’ lives as sex workers, but on their previous and/or simultaneous lives as mothers, wives, girlfriends and daughters. The women practised ‘survival sex’ as CSWs and/or sexual partners of men, and experienced sexual violence from their clients/partners. This violence was either culturally legitimised within a patriarchal framework or manifested itself as ‘displaced aggressive sex’ by men experiencing marginalisation in socio-economic spheres.
Conclusion: Government health policies and criminal laws regarding sex work, violence against sex workers and domestic/ sexual violence against all women need to be critiqued and consistently implemented. Addressing the ‘survival sex’ of women in Tanzania cannot occur without addressing what the authors call the ‘displaced aggressive sex’ of men.