Developing experimental vignettes to identify gender norms associated with transactional sex for adolescent girls and young women in central Uganda
Purpose Transactional sex or informal sexual exchange relationships increase adolescent girls' and young women's (AGYW) HIV and pregnancy risk in sub-Saharan Africa. These relationships are grounded in the shared expectation that men should provide financial support to their partners. We built a vignette experiment to assess whether gender norms influenced by expectations of provision help to explain how transactional sex increases AGYW's sexual and reproductive health risks. Methods We used mixed methods to develop a vignette experiment in Central Uganda with AGYW including 10 focus group discussions, 32 cognitive interviews, and a pilot survey experiment with 108 sexually active unmarried AGYW. Respondents were randomly assigned to one of the two manipulations for three vignettes. The vignettes examined whether the amount a man provided changed perceived social approval of men's authority in relationships, sexual decision-making power, or women having multiple partners. Results We find that a higher level of male provision is associated with higher levels of perceived community approval for his sexual decision-making power (p < .001) and lower levels of perceived peer approval for AGYW's to seek a second partner (p < .05). We also find that higher levels of male provision are associated with respondent's own approval of male authority and sexual decision-making. Conclusion Our findings suggest that approval of men's sexual decision-making power increases when they provide more and that girls who seek a second partner find higher levels of social approval for this behavior when their primary partner provides less. Vignette experiments may be valuable for identifying social norms that put AGYW's sexual and reproductive health at risk.