Recent research demonstrates that economic interventions may positively effect HIV risk among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in sub-Saharan Africa. Some evidence reveals potential associations between financial decision-making and bargaining power in sexual relationships. However, this evidence is mixed, nuanced, and limited. This paper explores how AGYW in Zambia understand financial agency and its effect on intimate relationships.
In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 30 females aged 15–24 years residing in Kalingalinga, a low income, high-density residential area in Lusaka. Data were analysed using thematic content analysis.
Participants spoke of the ability to earn and spend money as reality for some and aspirational for many others, intrinsic to cultural and religious caveats influencing perceptions of agency for women. The transfer of financial independence to sexual agency within relationships was viewed as a mechanism for HIV risk reduction; however, male sexual privilege was an obstacle irrespective of financial decision-making.
Programmes aiming to enhance financial agency for AGYW have the potential to reduce HIV sexual risk. Yet, to be most effective, integration with gender-transformative programmes is needed to address norms of male dominance that keep AGYW in positions of vulnerability.