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“No to Free Sex”: Transnational Women Migrants and Indonesia’s AIDS Prevention Efforts

205A Maxwell Hall

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Transnational migration has been associated with HIV transmission. Although there was optimism that HIV rates are on the decline, the 2006 Report on the Global AIDS epidemic has documented that there are still significant gaps in many parts of the world in response to the problem. Particularly low-paid unskilled migrant workers face a greater risk in becoming infected with HIV with women being especially vulnerable because of their gendered identity and the nature of the work sector they enter. Fully aware of the threat of the spread of HIV as a result of mobility, the Indonesian government has integrated an HIV component into the mandatory pre-departure programme promulgated in 2005 for women migrants. Largely Indonesian women take on employment abroad in the domestic work sector. In analysing the HIV component of the programme within the larger pre-departure programme, this paper critiques the underlying assumption that the programme actively informs these women migrants on HIV prevention since abstinence and saying “no” to sex outside marriage are the concepts that are constantly emphasized. Based on participant observation of the pre-departure programme and in-depth interviews with government officials, international and local NGO staff in Indonesia and twenty Indonesian domestic workers employed in Singapore, the paper asserts that the programme does little to empower these women but instead in focusing on individual sexual behaviour, it tends to be victim blaming. 


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