Migrant Women and Female Partners of Male Migrants

Women and men migrate for any number of reasons: lack of food or employment opportunities, war, etc. "In much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, millions of people living in poverty have no viable employment opportunities close to home, forcing individuals to migrate from their communities in search of... a means to provide economic resources for their families. Because of changing market demands and socioeconomic norms, women have become an increasingly larger proportion of the migrant population" (Wardlow, 2007; Krishnan et al., 2008:104; Pirkle et al., 2007).

"... I think the easiest way for me to get HIV/AIDS is through sex with my husband" Migrant woman in Cambodia (Webber et al., 2010b)Migrants from a number of countries and regions may be at increased risk for HIV. "Where men and women are away from home for prolonged periods or seasonally, conjugal stability and social cohesion are disrupted and this increases the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as they are likely to establish new sexual networks that present a greater risk of HIV acquisition. On their return home, gendered role expectations and dominant ideologies around marriage and procreation make it unlikely they will use HIV prevention methods such as male condoms" (Abdool Karim et al., 2010a: S127). [See also Transforming Gender Norms] A review of women migrants from Asia who go to Arab States, with 307 interviews in Bangladesh, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan; 95 interviews of female migrants in United Arab Emirates; 103 interviews in Bahrain; and 66 interviews in Lebanon with returnees of women who are HIV-positive found that migrant women have poor access to even basic information about HIV (UNDP, 2008).

In fact, as of September 2008, 66 of 186 countries for which data were available placed special entry, stay or residence restrictions on people living with HIV, adding to stigma and discrimination (HRW, 2009). These restrictions on the mobility of people living with HIV can increase stigma. Migrants with HIV may have additional barriers to accessing services.

Migrant labor systems have aggravated women's economic dependence on their male partners to a much greater extent in Southern Africa than in other parts of the continent where women are more prominent in market trading and other forms of commercial activity. There are few income-earning activities for women with low educational attainment, heightening women's vulnerability for HIV (Hunter, 2002 cited in Hankins et al., 2006). Migrant women often have reduced access to services and may need to engage in transactional sex for survival. Male migrant workers, such as miners and truck drivers, are at higher risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS than nonmigrant workers (Mbizvo et al., 1996, cited in Corbett et al., 2000), increasing the risk for their other sexual partners. For this reason, government HIV prevention efforts should be matched by private sector efforts to reduce conjugal instability in industries such as mining and trucking (Abdool Karim et al., 2010a).

Although this is a group with several high risk factors for HIV acquisition and transmission, little evidence is available on interventions that work for migrant women and female partners of male migrants. Further evaluation of effective strategies is needed to identify the best way to prevent HIV among women and girls affected by migration and to treat and care for migrants living with HIV.