The objective of this paper is to expose those socio-structural contexts revealing the social injustice and human rights violations that sub-Saharan women face every day when forced into sex work by unemployment or sickness. Results of a qualitative study highlighting some key structural determinants of sex work and HIV infection among FSWs will be presented and examined through the lens of the WHO conceptual framework for action on the social determinants of health. The results showed that most FSWs had lacked the necessary financial support at some point in their lives. Also, both the socioeconomic and political context failed to provide proper support to prevent involvement in sex work and the consequent risks of HIV. The cultural and societal values placed on the health and well-being of FSWs in Benin appear to depend on the degree to which sexual violence and adultery are perceived as a collective social concern. This portrait of FSWs calls for both long-term interventions through a structural determinant approach to HIV prevention, targeting all the women who could face such a financial situation well before their entry into sex work, while maintaining short and medium-term interventions on the intermediary determinants.
Keywords: Benin; Female sex workers; HIV; Health; Migration; Structural determinants; gender.