Sexual relationships, condom use and risk perception among female bar workers in north-west Tanzania

AIDS Care. 1997 Aug;9(4):407-16. doi: 10.1080/713613167.


This paper discusses the background characteristics, sexual relationships, condom use and risk perception of bar workers in Magu district, north-west Tanzania. Bar workers in Magu are geographically mobile. They are not highly educated but probably have a higher level of schooling than average. They are mostly unmarried or divorced. They choose bar work because, given the resources available, it provides them with a good balance between earning their own income and being independent. Although the women are still partially dependent on the financial support provided by sexual partners and sexual relations tend to be based on exchange, bar workers cannot simply be equated with prostitutes. Some have a regular partner and the odd casual partner while others may have large numbers of casual contacts. Regular partners are almost always married and often itinerant. The distinction between regular and casual partners is important and based on the nature and extent of financial support. It is also related to condom use and therefore to risk. Women claim to be able to demand condom use from casual partners but not from regular partners. Although women claim that regular partners can be trusted, they nonetheless admit feeling at risk of AIDS and STDs from these same partners.

PIP: A multidisciplinary research study conducted in northwest Tanzania's Magu district in 1993 sought to increase understanding of the characteristics of female bar workers, who are regarded by local authorities as a group at high risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). 33 of the approximately 80 bar, brew shop, and guest house workers in Magu Town were interviewed or enrolled in focus group discussions. In 1994, follow-up interviews were conducted with 27 of these women. The average age of study respondents was 25 years. Bar workers in Magu are predominantly divorced or unmarried and have a high degree of geographic mobility. They select bar work as an alternative to financial dependence on their families. However, because bar workers earn an average of only Tsh 3000 a month (national average monthly income, Tsh 10,000), they remain partially dependent on the financial support of sexual partners. These women provide sex to men in exchange for direct or indirect financial support. The difference between regular and casual partners was expressed by respondents primarily in financial terms. Regular partners, who are usually married, support a woman over an extended period and provide assistance in times of acute need (e.g., illness, school fees), while casual partners exchange a predetermined amount of money for a single sexual encounter. This distinction affects perceptions of risk and condom use. Women are more likely to demand condom use with casual partners, despite the perception that their regular partners also expose them to the risk of HIV. Overall, these bar workers accept the dominant ideology that men are naturally promiscuous and non-monogamous.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Occupations
  • Perception
  • Risk-Taking
  • Rural Health
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Sexual Partners
  • Tanzania