Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Women's Empowerment, Sexual Risk, Zambia, HIV/AIDS, Marital Relationship

Major Advisor

Davita Silfen Glasberg

Associate Advisor

Bandana Purkayastha

Associate Advisor

Kathryn Strother Ratcliff

Associate Advisor

Stephen L. Schensul

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Zambia has the sixth highest global HIV prevalence rate, with the rate for women significantly higher than their male counterparts. Due to women’s increasing risk for HIV/STIs, several organizations have promoted interventions that empower women as a way to improve their health outcomes and reduce their sexual risk. This dissertation focused on women’s empowerment and its relationship to sexual risk and sought to delineate the roles of the family and social context in both empowerment and sexual risk. From May-November 2011, I conducted field research in a low-income community in Lusaka, Zambia. This research study employed several methods including: observation, in-depth qualitative interviews, and the administration of a survey instrument. Findings from this study highlight the complicated nature of the concept of empowerment. Results indicate that the nature of a woman’s relationship with her male partner is a crucial mediating variable in her sexual risk. A positive partner relationship was associated with lower levels of violence and men’s sexual risk behaviors. Further, joint decision making between a woman and her partner was associated with lower risk for HIV, whereas individual decision making by the woman or the man was associated with increased risk for HIV. This study lends support for empowerment interventions that take a holistic approach to risk reduction by not only involving women’s male partners but also targeting changes in societal and cultural norms.