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Vol. 30 (2010)

Female Bodies: Gender Inequalities, Vulnerability, HIV and AIDS in Kenya

  • Dr. Waithera Sesay
June 21, 2017


This paper emerged from a lack of literature on women's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in AIDS discourses. Women have been vulnerable to HIV/AIDS since the epidemic emerged but not much research has been done specifically on Kenyan women. The ways in which women are vulnerable to HIV infection were explored by examining social, economic, and cultural identities that affect women's sexual relations using a feminist lens. In this research, it is postulated that HIV vulnerability has to be studied in the context of patriarchy and cultural constraints.
To address women's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, secondary analysis of data from the 2003 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey was utilized. Hence, demographic variables of age, education, religion, ethnicity, region of residence, marital status, and employment were the independent variables that were used to discern the factors associated with HIV vulnerability among women. A dependent variable, HIV vulnerability which I constructed from the 2003 Health and Demographic Survey was conceived of as a larger concept comprised of powerlessness in basic decision-making processes within the household, AIDS-related knowledge on transmission and prevention, cultural practices which encompassed polygamy, wife inheritance, and sexual behavior, and perceived risk of contracting the HIV/AIDS disease. In this study, the data strongly suggested that women in Kenya are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS when they are younger, have low levels of education, are from different ethnicities and from certain regions, are unmarried, and not employed. The findings supported the literature that women's vulnerability is strongly influenced and tied by broader forces present in the society. Women's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS is real and needs to be tackled for any progress to occur in the fight against AIDS. HIV/AIDS is a very expensive disease that totally drains economies of households, communities, and countries. Until HIV vulnerability is acknowledged and fought, women will continue to succumb to the disease overwhelmingly and Kenya will eventually disintegrate as it will be full of sick people intensifying underdevelopment. Women's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS is an urgent issue that needs dire attention for Kenya to prosper. A healthy population fosters development and stability. However HIV/AIDS produces instability, suffering, extreme poverty, and underdevelopment.