The Sexual Networks of Migrant Serere Women and the Spread of HIV in Senegal

Velyvis, Kristen
Working paper no. 1998-26


This study looks at the sexual networks of migrant women from the Serere ethnic group in Senegal, West Africa. These women were identified as likely to be at risk of high rates of sexual networking (having relations with multiple sex partners), a high risk practice for HIV infection, due to the social, economic and cultural conditions in which they live. These indicator conditions include economic vulnerability, high rates of migration to urban areas, and marriage patterns that include polygamy, one of the highest divorce rates in Africa and common widowhood. The migration patterns of Serere women also indicate that should they become infected with HIV, they could unintentionally create bridges from urban, high risk groups to rural, lower risk groups.

A field study was conducted among these women in 1997 to 1) assess the character and extent of the sexual networks of migrant Serere women in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, 2) determine whether they create links between high risk, urban and lower risk, rural populations, and 3) identify what factors shape these networks.

Statistical analysis shows that this sample of migrant Serere women have not adopted high risk sexual networking behavior. For the most part they maintain traditional Serere marriage and sexual practices with moderate risk for HIV infection. They also do not create an important link between high and low risk groups for the spread of HIV.

As far as the factors that shape these sexual networks, one hypothesis is that the solidarity between Serere migrant women might keep them from higher risk behavior – where support from fellow migrant women replaces the support women across Africa receive from men through increased sexual networking. Another area for future research includes determining the effect of Islam on the sexual behavior of this and other groups, as Senegal is over 95% Muslim.

Logit regression was used to determine the characteristics of women that predict slightly higher risk behavior, so that women can be targeted for future interventions. These women include never married women aged 20-24, women with western education, women who have been migrating for more than 14 years, and Catholic women. Logit regression was also used to determine the characteristics of women and their partners that predict whether a couple uses condoms. The characteristics of the partners of the migrant Serere women in this sample were the most significant determining factors.