How empowered are girls/young women in their sexual relationships? Relationship power, HIV risk, and partner violence in Kenya

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Gendered power dynamics within couple relationships can constrain women from achieving positive sexual and reproductive health outcomes. But little is known about relationship power among adolescents, and tools to measure it are rarely validated among adolescents. We tested the Sexual Relationship Power Scale (SRPS) among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) and examined associations with select health outcomes. Methods: A 16-item adaptation of the SRPS was administered to AGYW aged 15–24 in Kenya (n = 1,101). Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and theta coefficients assessed scale performance for three age bands: 15–17, 18–20, and 21–24 years old. Relationship power levels were examined and multivariate logistic regressions assessed the relationship between power, and partner violence and HIV risk outcomes. Results: CFAs confirmed a one factor structure for each subgroup, and thetas for final 15-item scales were robust ( >.82). Most respondents reported limited power in their sexual relationships, however older respondents consistently reported lower levels of power. Relationship power was strongly associated with several outcomes, even when controlling for socioeconomic status and schooling. For example, AGYW who reported more relationship power were 12, 6, and 7 times less likely (ages 21–24, 18–20, and 15–17, respectively) to experience sexual violence (p < 0.001). Significant relationships were also found in multivariate analyses for physical partner violence (all three age bands), using a condom at last sex (18–20-year-olds), and increased knowledge of partner’s HIV status (21–24-year-olds). Conclusions: The SRPS is a good measure of relationship power for several age bands within AGYW, and power is experienced differently by older and younger AGYW. Low relationship power was a consistent predictor of partner violence, as well as an important predictor of HIV risk. Interventions seeking to address HIV and violence should also explicitly address relationship power and utilize validated tools (like the SRPS) to evaluate impacts.






Reducing HIV Risk among Adolescent Girls and Young Women: Implementation Science around the DREAMS Initiative