Global: Ten reasons why criminalisation of HIV exposure or transmission harms women

A new pamphlet released to coincide with World AIDS Day highlights why criminalisation is bad for women and girls, despite policymakers believing they are enacting new HIV-specific laws in order to protect them.

In addition to criminalizing the transmission of HIV, these laws sometimes call for mandatory HIV testing of pregnant women, as well as for non-consensual partner disclosure by healthcare providers; further exacerbating the impact of such legislation on women. The call to apply criminal law to HIV exposure and transmission is often driven by a well-intentioned wish to protect women, and to respond to serious concerns about the ongoing rapid spread of HIV in many countries, coupled with the perceived failure of existing HIV prevention efforts. While these concerns are legitimate and must be urgently addressed, closer analysis reveals that criminalization does not prevent new HIV transmissions or reduce women’s vulnerabilities to HIV. In fact, criminalization harms women, rather than assists them, while negatively impacting on both public health needs and human rights protections. Applying criminal law to HIV exposure is likely to heighten the risk of or transmission does nothing to violence and abuse women face; address the epidemic of gender-strengthen prevailing gendered based violence or the deep economic, inequalities in healthcare and family social, and political inequalities that settings; further promote fear and are at the root of women’s and girls’ stigma; increase women’s risks and disproportionate vulnerability to HIV.

It then details the ten reasons:

  1. Women will be deterred from accessing HIV prevention, treatment, and care services, including HIV testing
  2. Women are more likely to be blamed for HIV transmission
  3. Women will be at greater risk of HIV-related violence and abuse
  4. Criminalisation of HIV exposure or transmission does not protect women from coercion or violence
  5. Women’s rights to make informed sexual and reproductive choices will be further compromised
  6. Women are more likely to be prosecuted
  7. Some women might be prosecuted for mother-to-child transmission
  8. Women will be more vulnerable to HIV transmission
  9. The most ‘vulnerable and marginalized’ women will be most affected
  10. Human rights responses to HIV are most effective.

10 Reasons Why Criminalization of HIV Exposure or Transmission Harms Women was drafted by Dr. Johanna Kehler of the AIDS Legal Network, Michaela Clayton of the AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, and Tyler Crone of the ATHENA Network.

You can download the pdf of the pamphlet here.

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