The social dynamics of selling sex in Mombasa, Kenya: a qualitative study contextualizing high risk sexual behaviour

Karen M. Hampanda


Female sex workers (FSWs) in sub-Saharan Africa have one of the highest HIV seroprevelance rates of any population. Effective safe sex interventions are urgently needed to stop the transmission of HIV during commercial sex. Despite widespread education, counselling, and condom distribution interventions among FSWs, unprotected sexual intercourse remains a large behavioural challenge. Research on this topic has been limited primarily to establishing the frequency of high risk sexual behaviour without a comprehensive analysis of the social environment creating these factors, especially gender inequality. Through qualitative indepth interviews and focus group discussions with FSWs, this article contextualizes the selling of sex in one large urban city of Kenya. The results of this study indicate that FSWs will never be able to enforce safe sex among male clients in such settings without structural interventions that address gendered socioeconomic power imbalances. Policy implications based on these findings include re-evaluating laws against the selling of sex and prioritizing female education and economic opportunities. (Afr J Reprod Health 2013; 17[2]: 141-149).


Les femmes prostituées(FP) en Afrique sub-saharienne ont l'un des taux les plus élevés de la séroprévalence du VIH de toute  population. Il faut des  interventions  sexuelles efficaces sûres de toute urgence pour arrêter la transmission du VIH lors des rapports sexuels commerciaux. En dépit de vastes interventions d'éducation, de conseils et de préservatifs parmi les femmes prostituées, les rapports sexuels à haut risque reste un grand défi comportemental. La recherche sur ce sujet a été limitée principalement à établissement de  la fréquence des comportements sexuels à risque, sans une analyse complète de l'environnement social qui crée  ces facteurs, en particulier les inégalités entre les sexes. A  travers  des entretiens approfondis et des discussions de groupe avec les femmes prostituées, cet article met en contexte le commerce du sexe dans une grande ville  urbaine au Kenya. Les résultats de cette étude indiquent que les femmes prostituées ne seront jamais en mesure d'appliquer le sexe sans risque chez les clients masculins dans de tels contextes, sans des interventions structurelles qui s’occupent des déséquilibres du pouvoir socio-économiques basés sur l’inégalité des sexes. Les implications politiques fondées sur ces résultats comprennent la réévaluation des lois contre la commercialisation du sexe et la hiérarchisation  de l’éducation des femmes et des opportunités économiques. (Afr J Reprod Health 2013); 17[2]: 141-149).


Keywords: female sex work, sub-Saharan Africa, gender inequality, Kenya, sexual behaviour, HIV/AIDS

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