What Puts Women at Risk? – Cultural Contexts

We all live in some form of community. Many of us live in different or overlapping communities. They are found at home, work, places of worship and wherever else we spend time. Our community (or communities) play a part in shaping our cultural contexts.

Here are a few elements to consider when thinking about how cultural contexts might put women at risk for HIV transmission:

  • class
  • income
  • education
  • colonialism
  • mental health
  • religious belief
  • history of abuse
  • systemic racism
  • personal background
  • survival of a civil conflict
  • injection drugs/sharing of needles or works

The level of marginalization within society that a woman faces is important to understand. Some things that result in marginalization are touched on in the introduction to this section, What Puts Women At Risk? Others relate to the points above, and are also described in the Determinants of Health section of this website.

Poverty, homelessness, lack of education, family dysfunction and parental substance misuse, mental health problems, and a history of child abuse are all social determinants that place people at higher risk of misusing drugs or of injecting drugs.1

The risk of cultural contexts – an example

Women are more likely than men to borrow or share injection needles or works, especially with their sexual partners. Women are more likely to be injected by a friend or partner, which increases risk. There is also greater HIV risk in the overlap between injection drug use, sex work and the power imbalance in relationships.

Women might share needles to:

  • inject drugs
  • inject steroids
  • get a tattoo
  • get a body piercing
  • get acupuncture

Whatever it might be used for, sharing a needle/works increases the chance of being infected by HIV or – for someone who already has HIV – passing it along to another person. Sharing needles also increases risks for Hepatitis C transmission and the possibility of acquiring multiple types of HIV that may be resistant to some anti-HIV medications.

This is just one illustration of how cultural contexts can affect behaviour. Service providers can easily draw from their own experiences to come up with others.

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1Reducing the Harm Associated with Injection Drug Use in Canada, Health Canada, 2001