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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. My research demonstrates that, contrary to typical expectations, money and gift transfers in sexual partnerships are part and parcel of the courting practices of young Malawian women and men. The current HIV program prevention emphasis on protecting young women in sub-Saharan Africa from risk of infection is understandable.

Throughout the region, recent data show that 4. To for these disparities, explanations have typically highlighted age-discrepant relationships, inability to negotiate condom use in sexual relationships, or unequal access to key resources and the concomitant use of violence or coercion by men over women Gregson et al. Despite notable exceptions e. Dunkle et al. Relatedly, many surveys include a question asking women if they had ever received money or gifts in exchange for sex e.

MDHS Should we consider these women to be sex workers? Or are they solely victims of circumstance, unable to make choices other than engaging in sex for money? Alternatively, are there situations where money-sex exchange is less clear, the price and the timing of delivery unspecified? Is there room for courtship as well as love and lust?

And what about those who are not infected with HIV? In considering the case of Malawi— the site of the present work and where the epidemic began over two decades ago and—national estimates are that approximately 14 percent of women and men are infected, which means of course that 86 percent are not. Discourse within another body of literature—largely in anthropology—has provided alternative but not always distinct understandings of sex and money exchange.

This work has centered on, for instance, the social change brought about by modernity and globalization, which in turn is argued to have altered contemporary sexual relations between women and men Ankomah, ; Leclerc-Madlala,or on the commanding roles women have over their sexuality e. Bujra, ; Cornwall, ; Wardlow,or on the grey area characterizing sex and money linkages more generally Cole, ; Nyanzi et al.

This literature counters s of women as invariably vulnerable and begins to acknowledge the cultural milieu in which sexual decisions are made see also Leclerc-Madlala, Yet two major shortcomings remain in this work. The second is that while this research tends to interpret money exchange in the realm of sexuality as somehow different from Euro-American ideas of prostitution, assumptions persist that were they less economically constrained, women would have more sexual power for exceptions see Cornwall, ; Wardlow, Finally, these studies all miss an important opportunity to identify which women are able to avoid infection and promote their own health, and how they are able to do it.

In this article, I thus advance upon this literature by recognizing that even in high HIV prevalence contexts such as Malawi, most young adults are not infected. I use ethnographic inquiry to explore the exchange of money in premarital partnerships in a poor, rural setting, where a global economy is only beginning to penetrate. The foregoing suggests that understanding the money and sex link requires an examination that s for how exchange creates and shapes the sexual practices among young people.

To do this, I spent several months living in the southern district of Balaka in Malawi in — I present findings from 54 in-depth interviews randomly selected from a sub-set of this survey sample, in 17 villages in Balaka.

Malawi, with a population of Its fertility rate is falling, but remains high at 5. The Balaka district is typical of other Malawian communities; it is rural and poor, and sources of income typify other rural areas in the country Mtika, While women tend to marry young on average Access to a main, tarred road is available by public transport, which is not always affordable. The urban areas of Zomba and Blantyre are approximately two hours away.

Of the present sample, two-thirds are Muslim and ethnic Yaos, and the remainder are ethnic Chewa and some people of Christian denomination. The mean age of this sample is About a third of the girls and a quarter of the boys were married when interviewed. Slightly more than half of the boys and slightly less than half of the girls were still in school.

The ordering of the topics was left to the trained interviewer so as to circumvent an atmosphere of formality, considered especially important given the sensitivity of the topics associated with sexuality. Married respondents were asked about current spouses as well as any premarital partners.

Informed consent was obtained from each respondent, and, for those under 18 years of age, from their parents as well. Experienced local interviewers were matched according to the sex, age, and ethnicity of the respondent, and were trained by a Malawian supervisor with several years of field experience in qualitative and well as survey research data collection and me. After a careful selection process of local interviewers—largely chosen, in addition to demographic characteristics, because of their writing skills in Englishconversational skills, and a general ease and openness to discussing sensitive issues—an extended training ensued.

During the interviews, recorders were not used, as they were thought a probable source of discomfort to respondents in this local context, and particularly for younger women with little to no sexual experience. Premarital sexual relationships are often secretive Haram, ; Wight et al.

Therefore, to minimize the potential for undue anxiety, and keeping in line with the intended conversational tone of the interview, interviewers instead took notes. Two steps were taken to compensate for the limitations this method placed on the precision with which the interviews could be reported and thus the potential loss of important, translatable information. First, the interviewers, with the aid of their notes, immediately attempted to reconstruct each interview in writing and by translating into English. I immediately read each interview to cross-check the reconstruction and translation.

Despite these steps, I acknowledge that the translated material still depends on what the interviewers could recall. In addition, during the many months I spent working in Malawi collecting data for this project, I had numerous, informal conversations with key informants and acquaintances, colleagues, and strangers that have also been invaluable to these interpretations. In Balaka and in all of Malawi, a sexual partner outside of marriage is known in chiChewa as a chibwenzi pl.

The word is gender-neutral, and loosely translates to mean a friend but is understood to be a sexual partner, or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Zibwenzi -partnerships can be casual, lasting for one month or less, but can be, and often are, more enduring, possibly ending in marriage. It may also happen that young people marry while by-passing the chibwenzi or chitomelo -phase altogether, although this appears to be less common. Men have more lifetime partners 2.

Nearly all respondents claiming virginity status were 15 or 16 years of age. Premarital intimate relationships are largely among peers who are members of the same or nearby communities. Young Malawians meet each other in schools, in nearby villages, at their churches or mosques, or at soccer games. This is done by writing a letter and having it delivered by some intermediary, such as a friend or a brother, stating that the young man thinks his hoped-for girlfriend is beautiful, for example. The proposed-to young woman is then required to either accept or reject the proposal.

If she accepts, she then has a chibwenziand the couple will engage in intercourse within a matter of days, or within a week at the most. It is not acceptable for young women to propose to men, although on occasion women may make their interest known, such as by coyly flirting with their eyes. A young woman can, and very often does, refuse proposals, but in Balaka, her acceptance is an acceptance of sex. The interviews illustrate that the choices of whom to propose to and from whom to accept proposals are far from arbitrary.

Unmarried women accept proposals from men for a variety of reasons. On the latter, definitions differed by respondent, but could mean an unwavering willingness to have sex, an adeptness in cooking and cleaning, or a respectful demeanor toward elders.

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Before accepting or proposing, young women and men assess the suitability of potential partners through locally innovative strategies, such as inquiring about the sexual histories of possible mates from friends, relatives and neighbors. Young people are motivated to have zibwenzis for a variety of reasons, including sexual pleasure, and to assess whether the relationship will lead to a marital union. For instance, a year old male respondent with two girlfriends considered having two important to determine which would make a better wife. In another example, year old Abdullah, after two years of dating, now sees his partner as marriageable:.

R : My current girlfriend … has been my girlfriend for two years now. I intend to marry her. I : In the initial proposal, did you include the wish to marry her? R : No, I did not include that. I am [saying] that I will marry her because in the two years that she has been my girlfriend, I have seen that she is a good girl, she respects. Abdullah, age Unmarried Malawians exhibit varying degrees of emotional investment or love in intimate partnerships, which may depend on a host of factors, including the perceived loyalty of the partner.

It is in this cultural context of courting rituals that intimate relationships are intertwined with money. As will be shown, the rules and norms surrounding exchange are intricate and even ambiguous. Yet transfers do have unequivocal connotations. One persistency is this: a sexual relationship can not exist without a male to female transfer of money or gift. Restated, without a transfer, there can be no chibwenzi.

In the interviews, all women who have or have had a boyfriend received money from that boyfriend at some point during their partnership.

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And all men who have or have had a girlfriend gave money to that girlfriend at some point. The first transfer of money and corresponding sexual act marks the beginning of the relationship, and, although over time the amount transferred may change, continued transfers sustain it.

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Money transfers take place in a range of partnership types, even in more emotionally-committed ones that span some time. In the questionnaire, the MDICP asked all sexually active, never-married women about the type of their current or penultimate partner, and whether the last time they had sex with that partner they received any money or gifts.

The semiotics of money are reflected both publicly and privately. Publicly, that transfers mean sex will occur is apparent. Men expect that when giving money, they will be having sex, and they expect to have it sooner rather than later. For girls, getting money means material benefits; with money, things both needed and wanted are bought, like sugar and soap. Also clear is the responsibility of boyfriends to provide money. Should they fail, female partners have grounds for ending relationships, as the following illustrates:. I: Why did you not tell your girlfriend to ask her parents for soap and lotion?

R: Oh, no! I can not do that. The moment one does that then a girl would end a relationship. A boy that does not have money to give his girlfriend risks losing her. Raffiq, age In the private realm, money is given meaning by the relationship itself, and creates ties between couples.

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Sex, Money, and Premarital Relationships in Southern Malawi