Study to Offer Microloans to Tijuana Sex Workers

Monday, February 9, 2015

A study that looks at links between poverty and high-risk behavior among Tijuana sex workers will offer loans to a group of 60 women this year. The dollar amount is small— initially about $200 per participant — and the researchers hope that the women will use the money to launch small businesses and find an additional source of income.

The National Institutes of Health is funding the $180,000 study, a randomized control trial led by researchers from the University of California’s Center on Gender Equity and Health, part of the Division of Global Public Health. Two San Diego organizations are also involved: Women’s Empowerment International is providing $54,000 for the loans, and Via International will work closely with the women, offering support as they build their businesses.

“We know that economic vulnerability underlies women’s involvement in sex work in the first place,” said Elizabeth Reed, an assistant professor at UC San Diego and the study’s primary investigator. “It gives them less power in negotiations with their clients.”

The collaboration has been dubbed ESTIMA, and involves not just microfinance but community mobilization: Participants will work in groups of six to 10, elect leaders, and determine their own needs for assistance, said Elisa Sabatini, Via International’s executive director.

“It might be something about savings or management of inventory,” Sabatini said. “It could be something about health or self-esteem.”

The primary aim of the project is to test whether the microfinance program can reduce the participants’ vulnerability to AIDS, Reed said. Female sex workers are among the populations in Tijuana that are at greatest risk for the disease, with between 5 percent and 14 percent infected with HIV.

Source: U-T San Diego (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
poverty alleviation