2022 in review: A turning point for HIV justice?

Looking back on all that happened in 2022, we are cautiously optimistic that 2022 will be seen as a turning point in the global movement to end HIV criminalisation. We celebrated promising developments in case law, law reform and policy in many countries and jurisdictions over the past year, building on the momentum of 2021. Although there is much more work yet to do, it’s clear that progress is being made — thanks primarily to the leadership of people living with HIV.

Continuing a trend that began two years ago, overall there seems to have been a decline in the number of HIV-related prosecutions. This year we identified media reports of 49 new HIV criminalisation cases in 16 countries plus seven US states. This compares to 54 new cases in 20 countries last year (which was still fewer than reported in previous years). This year, the highest number of case reports came from Russia, followed by the United States (with multiple cases in the state of Florida), and France

It is possible that we are seeing fewer media reports because there are actually fewer cases, but we must always consider these known cases to be illustrative of what is likely a more widespread, poorly documented use of criminal law against people living with HIV. The media, public health authorities and law enforcement may still be distracted by the global financial crisis precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the impact of COVID-19 — a pandemic that continues to disproportionately impact people living with HIV.

After being near the top in previous years, Belarus has been bumped off the ‘most cases’ list. Last year, the Belarus Investigative Committee reported 34 new HIV-related criminal cases. It’s highly likely that this year there were some (unreported) cases, but it’s also clear that the number of cases has been slowing down since 2020, possibly due to ongoing discussions with the government to limit the use of the criminal law.

Canada used to be a global leader in HIV criminalisation, but no new cases were reported this year. In fact, the only case reports from Canada were about the overturning of a conviction by the Ontario Court of Appeal after it accepted there was no realistic possibility of transmission as the accused woman had an undetectable viral load, and another Ontario Court of Appeal acquittal based on the accused man’s elite controller status. These positive rulings follow many years of sustained advocacy, which has also led to the federal government opening a public consultation on reforming the criminal law. The Canadian Coalition to Reform HIV Criminalization has welcomed this consultation as a first step to concrete action on law reform.

Earlier this year, Taiwan’s Supreme Court also recognised the prevention benefit of treatment by upholding the acquittal of a man with an undetectable viral load who was accused of alleged HIV exposure. But elsewhere in Asia, Singapore continues to unjustly prosecute gay men living with HIV under draconian laws, despite being celebrated for recently repealing their colonial-era law that criminalised sex between men. Singapore is also the world leader in prosecuting gay men for not disclosing a possible HIV risk before donating blood. That’s why we issued our Bad Blood report in September, which concludes that the criminalisation of blood donations by people with HIV is a disproportionate measure — the result of both HIV-related stigma and homophobia, and not supported by science.

In the United States, we continued to see a reduction in the number of states with HIV-specific criminal laws thanks to the ongoing advocacy by networks of people living with HIV supported by human rights and public health organisations. In 2022, Georgia modernised its law and New Jersey became the third US state to fully repeal its HIV-specific criminal law. President Biden again highlighted HIV criminalisation in his World AIDS Day proclamation stating that “outdated laws have no basis in science, and they serve to discourage testing and further marginalize HIV-positive people.” In October, the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS unanimously passed an historic resolution on molecular HIV surveillance that will be critical to protecting the human rights and dignity of people living with HIV. But problematic new laws continue to be enacted despite strong opposition from civil society. In November, Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Wolf, signed into law an overly broad, unscientific statute that makes it a felony to pass on a communicable disease, including HIV, when someone “should have known” they had the disease.

There was also mixed news from the African continent. In March, Zimbabwe became the second African country to repeal its HIV-specific law (the Democratic Republic of Congo repealed its law in 2018). This victory is testament to the effectiveness of a multi-year, multi-stakeholder campaign that began with civil society advocates sensitising communities and parliamentarians, notably the Honourable Dr Ruth Labode, Chairperson of Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care. She began pushing for a change in the law in 2018, having previously been in favour of the provision which she thought protected her female constituents. And in October, the Central African Republic also enacted a new HIV law that focused primarily on social protections for people living with HIV, without any criminalising provisions.

Also in October, the Lesotho High Court issued a positive judgment following a constitutional challenge to sections of the Sexual Offences Act that impose a mandatory death sentence on persons convicted of sexual offences if they were living with HIV.  Following interventions from members of the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE coalition and others, the Court ruled that people living with HIV have the same right to life as all others — and commuted the sentence.

The news elsewhere on the continent, however, wasn’t so positive. After six years of waiting, a constitutional challenge to some of the most problematic, criminalising sections of Uganda’s HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act was dismissed outright in November. We are anxiously awaiting the ruling in a similar challenge in neighbouring Kenya. It was filed five years ago and has since been postponed several times. This year, we also lost Ugandan nurse and HIV criminalisation survivor, Rosemary Namubiru, who was a posthumous recipient of the Elizabeth Taylor Legacy Award at this year’s International AIDS Conference.

Women — who were accused in around 25% of all newly reported cases this year — also face criminal prosecution in relation to breastfeeding or comfort nursing, mostly across the African continent. In addition, women living with HIV continue to be threatened with punitive public health processes and child protection interventions for breastfeeding their children in multiple countries. That’s why this year we created the short film, Mwayi’s Story, to highlight the injustice and facilitate discussion about HIV and breastfeeding. We also worked with our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE coalition partners to publish a paper in the peer-reviewed, open access journal Therapeutic Advances in Infectious Diseases to highlight these problematic and unjust approaches to women with HIV who breastfeed or comfort nurse.

This year, we learned from the Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS, working with the Global Network of People Living with HIV, about how women living with HIV are both disproportionately impacted by HIV criminalisation across the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region and also leaders in research, advocacy and activism against it. Their report illustrates how HIV criminalisation and gender inequality are intimately and inextricably linked. Case studies include a woman in Russia who was prosecuted for breastfeeding her baby and several women in Russia who were blackmailed by former partners who threatened to report them for alleged HIV exposure as a way to control, coerce, or abuse them.

The disproportionate impact of HIV criminalisation on women was also the focus of a World AIDS Day statement by the Organization of American States (OAS) calling on Member States to end HIV criminalisation. Earlier in the year, Argentina had enacted a new, comprehensive and non-punitive HIV, STI and TB law

Nevertheless, there is still so much more to do to reach the global target of fewer than 10% of countries with punitive laws and policies that negatively impact the HIV response. To keep up the momentum, we continued to produce reports and analysis — including our flagship Advancing HIV Justice 4: Understanding Commonalities, Seizing Opportunities — as well as contributed to peer-reviewed journal articles, such as So many harms, so little benefit in the Lancet HIV and Punishing vulnerability through HIV criminalization in the American Journal of Public Health. We’re also doing our best to ensure we change the media narrative on HIV criminalisation, including by contributing to The Guardian’s World AIDS Day podcast on HIV criminalisation.

Our greatest achievement this year was the creation of the HIV Justice Academy. We are very proud of this online platform for e-learning and training which we believe will be a catalyst in building the wider movement to end punitive laws and policies that impact people living with HIV in all their diversity. Already available in English and French, we’ll be launching in Spanish and Russian early next year.

Did we turn the corner in 2022? Only time will tell, but if there is one thing we know for sure it is that changing hearts and minds with respect to HIV criminalisation is a long road with many ups and downs along the way. We know that important progress was made in 2022 and that we begin 2023 with fresh analysis, new tools and a renewed spirit of solidarity.

Discussion Guide for Mwayi’s Story now available

Mwayi’s Story is a short film about courage and women standing up for their rights that was released earlier this year.

Watch the film

 

The film is based on the story of a woman in Malawi who was prosecuted for briefly breastfeeding another woman’s baby. After the case, the community campaigned to stop an HIV criminalisation statute from being passed.

Mwayi’s Story can be used as an awareness-raising and educational resource in classes, webinars and workshops.

The new Discussion Guide was created to help facilitators lead conversations before and after viewing the film.

The Guide provides some background and then poses a number of questions to stimulate thought and discussion. Not all questions are suited to all audiences.

 

Download the Discussion Guide

 

The film has already been shown in a number of forums since its release last May, including at AIDS 2022. It has now been subtitled in French, Russian and Spanish, and we are also looking for partners to translate additional subtitles if they think the film can be useful in their own advocacy. If you’re interested you can get in touch with us at breastfeeding@hivjustice.net. We will send you the English subtitle file for translation. After you return the file to us, we will upload it to YouTube.

Mwayi’s Story is part of our ongoing work to end the criminalisation of women living with HIV for breastfeeding and comfort nursing, including our Breastfeeding Defence Action Toolkit – one of six Action Toolkits in the HIV Justice Academy.

It is our goal to collaborate with advocates, researchers, service providers, organisations and community members around the world to raise awareness and prevent further unjust prosecutions against women living with HIV who breastfeed or comfort nurse. We are grateful to both the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and the Robert Carr Fund for their financial support for this work, and this film.

HIV Justice Academy now available in French
HIV Justice Academy est désormais disponible en français

En français ci-dessous

The HIV Justice Academy is now available in French at academy.hivjustice.net/fr. Launched initially in English, the platform architecture allows for content in multiple languages. Spanish and Russian versions will be announced soon. 

The Academy is a global learning and resource hub designed to support people who want to be part of the movement to end HIV criminalisation. It comprises three sections:

At the heart of the HIV Justice Academy is the HIV Criminalisation Online Course which provides a global overview of HIV criminalisation, useful for anyone who is interested in learning more about HIV criminalisation and how to advocate effectively against it.

With its free and accessible written and video resources, we hope that the HIV Justice Academy will engage a growing community of HIV justice activists and advocates, providing timely and accessible learning, tools and resources, so that progressive change can be achieved in legal and policy environments for people living with HIV at national, regional, and international levels.


HIV Justice Academy est maintenant disponible en français à l’adresse academy.hivjustice.net/fr 

Lancée initialement en anglais, l’architecture de la plateforme permet d’accueillir un contenu en plusieurs langues. Les versions espagnole et russe seront bientôt annoncées. 

L’Académie est un centre mondial d’apprentissage et de ressources conçu pour soutenir les personnes qui souhaitent participer au mouvement visant à mettre fin à la pénalisation du VIH. 

Elle se compose de trois sections :

Au cœur de l’Académie se trouve le cours en ligne sur la pénalisation du VIH, qui présente un aperçu général de la pénalisation du VIH, utile pour toute personne souhaitant approfondir ses connaissances sur la pénalisation du VIH et sur les stratégies de plaidoyer efficaces contre celle-ci.

Grâce à ses ressources documentaires et vidéos gratuites et accessibles, nous espérons que l’Académie mobilisera l’intérêt d’une communauté croissante d’activistes et de militants œuvrant pour la justice en matière de VIH, et que grâce à ses cours opportuns et accessibles, ses outils et ses ressources, des transformations progressives pourront être apportées à l’environnement juridique et politique des personnes vivant avec le VIH sur le plan national, régional et international.

Lesotho high court finds imposition of death sentence solely on the basis of HIV status unconstitutional

Court decision upholds that people living with HIV have the same right to life as all others

Joint news release from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, HIV Legal Network and HIV Justice Network

 

On 25 October 2022, the High Court of Lesotho in the case of MK v Director of Public Prosecutions and Others issued a judgment on a constitutional challenge to certain sections of the Sexual Offences Act that impose mandatory HIV testing on persons accused of sexual offences, and subsequently impose a death sentence on persons convicted of sexual offences solely based on their HIV-positive status.

The case was supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), HIV Legal Network – all members of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE (HJWW) Steering Committee coordinated by the HIV Justice Network (HJN) – as well as Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN). Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (LENEPWHA) was admitted as Amicus Curiae. The petitioner and Amicus Curiae were represented by Advocate Molati, Advocate Mokhathali, Advocate Masaeso, Advocate Mohau (K.C) and Advocate Letuka.

The petitioner challenged the constitutionality of section 32(a)(vii) of the Sexual Offences Act which appeared to impose a mandatory death sentence on people convicted of sexual offences who were HIV-positive and were aware of their status. The petitioner also challenged section 30 of the Act, which requires mandatory HIV testing for persons arrested and charged under the Act. The petitioner argued that the imposition of a mandatory death sentence solely on the grounds of HIV status, and mandatory HIV testing upon arrest, breached the constitutional rights to life, equality and non-discrimination, equal protection of the law, privacy, and dignity and that they contribute to stigma against people living with HIV.

In a judgment written by Justice Makara, the High Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, declared that section 32(a)(vii) of the Sexual Offences Act was unconstitutional to the extent that it imposes a death sentence solely on the basis of a person’s HIV status, as this was discriminatory and amounted to inhumane treatment. The Court said that people convicted of sexual offences should be sentenced according to the mitigating or aggravating circumstances rather than HIV status alone, and that the law should be interpreted so as not to require a mandatory death sentence for a person living with HIV.

“People living with HIV have the right to life, as all people do. Imposing the death penalty based on a person’s HIV-positive status is the most extreme form of discrimination possible. We welcome the Lesotho High Court’s decision to end this terrible human rights violation.” Edwin J Bernard, HIV Justice Network, global coordinator, HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE.

“While recognizing the serious impact of sexual violence, the judgment is an acknowledgment that the over-broad use of criminal laws and sanctions solely based on HIV status is unjust and not justified by a scientific and human-rights based approach” Maketekete Alfred Thotolo, Executive Director, LENEPWHA.

 

Download the pdf of the news release here

 

Prepare for action!
with the new
HIV Justice Academy

The HIV Justice Academy (academy.hivjustice.net) is a brand new global learning and resource hub designed to support people who want to be part of the movement to end HIV criminalisation.

It comprises three sections that address three different needs:

The HIV Justice Academy was created to allow for training, organising and advocacy to continue regardless of the travel and in-person meeting limitations we might face in the future. We want to ensure that we continue to build and galvanise the global movement to end punitive laws and policies that impact people living with HIV in all their diversity, with a specific focus on the criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and/or transmission (HIV criminalisation).

With its accessible written and video resources, we hope that the HIV Justice Academy will engage a growing community of HIV justice activists and advocates, providing timely and accessible learning, tools and resources, so that progressive change in legal and policy environments for people living with HIV at national, regional, and international levels can be achieved.

Launched initially in English, the platform architecture allows for content in multiple languages. We will be launching French, Spanish and Russian versions very soon. We will be relying on user feedback via surveys and our HIV Justice Academy multilingual chat function to ensure that the Academy will become ever more tailored to the needs of our growing network of individuals and organisations working to end HIV criminalisation.

At the heart of the HIV Justice Academy is the HIV Criminalisation Online Course which provides a global overview of HIV criminalisation, useful for anyone who is interested in learning more about HIV criminalisation and how to advocate effectively against it.

The HIV Justice Academy was developed by the HIV Justice Network (HJN), with guidance and expertise from our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE (HJWW) Steering Committee partners, members of our Global Advisory Panel (GAP) and other friends and allies in our global network. It is aimed at anyone interested in learning about HIV criminalisation, as well as specific groups of stakeholders, such as community-based HIV and human rights activists, paralegals, defence lawyers and expert witnesses. We hope the Academy will also inspire the creation of communities of practice for ongoing mutual support.

The HIV Justice Academy is supported by a grant from the Robert Carr Fund provided to the HIV Justice Global Consortium. The financial contribution of UNAIDS towards this work is gratefully acknowledged. However, its content and ideas expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of UNAIDS or engage the responsibility of UNAIDS.

When law and science part ways: the criminalization of breastfeeding by women living with HIV

The HIV Justice Network (HJN) has been monitoring a disturbing phenomenon — at least 12 women living with HIV have faced criminal prosecution in relation to breastfeeding or comfort nursing.  

In addition, women living with HIV have been threatened with punitive public health processes and child protection interventions for breastfeeding their children in multiple countries.

To bring this important issue to the attention of women’s health experts and advocates, HJN worked with our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners to write a paper for a Special Collection on Women’s Health and HIV for the peer-reviewed, open access journal Therapeutic Advances in Infectious Diseases.     

In “When law and science part ways: the criminalization of breastfeeding by women living with HIV,” published last week, Alison Symington (HJN’s Senior Policy Analyst), Nyasha Chingore-Munazvo (Programmes Lead, AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa) and Svitlana Moroz (Chair of the Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS) place the criminalisation of women with HIV for breastfeeding within the context of current medical recommendations and cultural views of breastfeeding. They review the criminal cases against women living with HIV for breastfeeding around the globe, examine the injustice of these prosecutions, and provide recommendations for decriminalisation.

This Special Collection includes papers addressing a wide range of health issues impacting women with HIV. According to lead author Alison Symington, “We felt it was important to submit a paper on breastfeeding and HIV criminalisation because so few people are aware of these horrible cases. Healthcare providers have an important role to play in protecting women from punitive actions and providing them with information and support so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and their children.”

To make the paper even more widely accessible, HJN has provided translations into French, Russian and Spanish.

It is HJN’s aim to collaborate with advocates, researchers, service providers, organisations and community members around the world to raise awareness and prevent further unjust prosecutions against women living with HIV who breastfeed or comfort nurse. We are therefore grateful to both the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and the Robert Carr Fund for their financial support for this work.

Further resources

Mwayi’s Story is a short film about courage, and about women standing up for their rights. The film is based on a real case in Malawi and the subsequent successful advocacy to prevent an HIV criminalisation statute being passed. The full story of the woman who was prosecuted for briefly breastfeeding another woman’s baby is told in an HJN feature, It Takes More Than A Village to End HIV Criminalisation, by Sally Cameron, based on a report by Peter Gwazayani, Edna Tembo and Charity Mkona.

 

 

Why people living with HIV should not be criminalised for donating blood

Preventing the transmission of blood-borne infection by imposing limitations on the donation of blood is an important and legitimate public health objective.

Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, certain groups – including, but not limited to, gay men and other men who have sex with men – have been subjected to restrictions on their ability to give blood.

Sustained advocacy by gay rights organisations in many high-income countries has focused on the discriminatory nature of these so-called ‘gay blood bans’, highlighting significant advances in blood screening capabilities. This has led to a general softening of restrictions on blood donations for gay men in many of these countries – allowing donations with ‘deferral periods’, or allowing donations based on individual risk assessments.

However, this advocacy has generally not translated into the removal of HIV-specific criminal laws for donating blood, nor has there been a call for a moratorium on singling out people living with HIV for donating blood using non-HIV-specific general criminal laws – even though many of the same public health and human rights arguments apply to both the so-called ‘gay blood bans’ and to HIV criminalisation more generally.

That is why today, the HIV Justice Network has published Bad Blood: Criminalisation of Blood Donations by People Living with HIV. The report was written by Elliot Hatt and edited by Edwin J Bernard, based on research undertaken by Sylvie Beaumont, with additional input provided by Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff and Paul Kidd (HIV Justice Network’s Supervisory Board); Sean Strub (Sero Project) and Robert James (University of Sussex).

We found that 37 jurisdictions in 22 countries maintain laws that criminalise people with HIV for donating blood. Notably, 15 jurisdictions in the United States (US) have laws which specifically criminalise blood donations by people living with HIV, while four US states – California, Illinois, Iowa, and Virginia – have repealed laws which previously criminalised this conduct.

Although prosecutions are relatively rare, we are aware of at least 20 cases relating to blood donation since 1987. Half of these cases have been reported in Singapore, including two as recently as 2021.

We argue that the criminalisation of blood donations by people with HIV is a disproportionate measure – even if the aim of protecting public health through the prevention of transfusion-transmitted infection is legitimate – and is the result of both HIV-related stigma and homophobia. It is not supported by science.

There is no good reason for any country or jurisdiction to have HIV-specific criminal laws – whether they focus on blood donation or on sexual exposure or transmission. HIV-specific criminal laws are discriminatory and stigmatising, especially since people with other serious blood borne infections – including hepatitis B and C and syphilis – are not singled out with specific laws, nor for prosecution under general criminal laws.

Blood donation criminal laws focused on HIV should be repealed, prosecutions based on general laws should end, and instead science-informed measures – such as individual donor risk assessments and universal blood screening – should be relied on to protect the public against transfusion-transmitted infection.

Read the report at: https://www.hivjustice.net/publication/badblood

Advancing HIV Justice 4: new report highlights more successes, continued challenges

A new report published today (July 22nd 2022) by the HIV Justice Network (HJN) on behalf of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE shows that the global movement to end HIV criminalisation continues to achieve remarkable successes, despite the many challenges that COVID-19 has brought.

Advancing HIV Justice 4: Understanding Commonalities, Seizing Opportunities provides a progress report of achievements and challenges in global advocacy against HIV criminalisation. The report generally covers a three year period ending 31 December 2021 where Advancing HIV Justice 3 ended. However, significant law reform developments that took place in the first quarter of 2022 are also included in report’s maps and analysis.

The successes

During the reporting period, four HIV criminalisation laws were repealed; another HIV criminalisation law was found to be unconstitutional; and six laws were ‘modernised’ (i.e. applied up-to-date science on HIV-related risk or harm and/or legal and human rights principles to limit the application of the law) five of which were in the United States.

In addition, we saw precedent-setting cases in four countries and policy recommendations or improvements in four further countries — all of which have the potential to limit the overly broad application of the law to people living with HIV based on HIV-positive status.

While legislative processes slowed down or stalled in some places due to COVID-19 diminishing capacity for advocacy, more HIV criminalisation laws were modernised or repealed in the United States than during any other time period, the realisation of a maturing PLHIV-led HIV decriminalisation movement that began a decade or more ago.

These outcomes were primarily due to sustained advocacy – most of it led by PLHIV networks working with allies – using a wide range of strategies. These are analysed in the report by HJN’s senior policy analyst, Alison Symington.

The challenges

However, too many HIV criminalisation cases and continued high numbers of HIV-related criminal laws continue to be of great concern, requiring more attention, co-ordinated advocacy, and funding.

Our global audit of HIV-related laws found that a total of 82 countries (111 jurisdictions) have criminal laws that are HIV-specific. Of those, we are aware of 52 jurisdictions in 35 countries that have applied their HIV-specific criminal laws.

Another 89 jurisdictions in 48 countries have applied non-HIV-specific, general criminal laws in an overly broad manner since the first prosecution in 1986.

Our case analysis shows that HIV criminalisation continues to disproportionately impact women, racial and ethnic minorities, migrants, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, and sex workers.

Although the total number of cases has diminished in some US states as well as in countries that were previously HIV criminalisation hotspots – Canada, Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, and Zimbabwe – too many unjust prosecutions and convictions continue to be reported.

During the reporting period, we recorded 275 cases in HJN’s Global HIV Criminalisation Database. However, when we include case numbers from several Eastern European and Central Asian countries that provide official data, we estimate almost 700 criminal cases over the reporting period.

Notwithstanding the limitations of tabulating cases globally, the highest number of reported cases during the period covered by this report were in:

The report is available to download in English, French, Russian and Spanish. 

Acknowlegements

Advancing HIV Justice 4 was conceived and edited by HJN’s executive director, Edwin J Bernard, and HJN’s senior policy analyst, Alison Symington. Alison Symington researched and wrote all chapters except for ‘Global Overview’, which was researched and written by Edwin J Bernard, using data collected by Sylvie Beaumont and analysed by Tenesha Myrie.

Additional input was provided by: Gonzalo Aburto (The Sero Project), India Annamanthadoo (HIV Legal Network), Stephen Barris (Ex Aequo), Sophie Brion (International Community of Women Living with HIV), Janet Butler-McPhee (HIV Legal Network), Nyasha Chingore-Munazvo (AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa), Kenechukwu Esom (United Nations Development Programme), Elie Georges Ballan (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS – UNAIDS), Alfredo González (Hondureños Contra el SIDA), Julian Hows (HIV Justice Network), Deidre Johnson (Ending Criminalization of HIV and Overincarceration in Virginia Coalition), Cécile Kazatchkine (HIV Legal Network), Svitlana Moroz (Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS), Immaculate Owomugisha Bazare (Uganda Network on Law Ethics and HIV/AIDS), Stephen Page (Nevada HIV Modernization Coalition), Cedric Pulliam (Ending Criminalization of HIV and Overincarceration in Virginia Coalition), Florence Riako Anam (Global Network of People Living with HIV), Mianko Ramaroson (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS – UNAIDS), Demario Richardson (Missouri HIV Justice Coalition), Sean Strub (The Sero Project), and Alexandra Volgina (Global Network of People Living with HIV).

We would especially like to acknowledge the courage and commitment of the growing number of people living with HIV and allies around the world who are challenging laws, policies and practices that inappropriately regulate and punish people living with HIV. Without them, this report — and the victories reported herein — would not have been possible.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial contribution of the Robert Carr Fund to this report.

Mwayi’s Story: a short film about courage,
women’s rights, and HIV justice

Today we are delighted to share with the world a new short film, Mwayi’s Story, produced by the HIV Justice Network on behalf of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE.

Mwayi’s Story is a story about courage, and about women standing up for their rights. The film is based on the story of a woman in Malawi who was prosecuted for briefly breastfeeding another woman’s baby and the subsequent successful advocacy in Malawi to prevent an HIV criminalisation statute being passed.

Ultimately, Mwayi’s Story is about HIV justice!

We wanted to produce a film that was authentic to the lived experience of an HIV criminalisation survivor but without making her go through the trauma of having to relive the experience by telling her story again.

HJN’s video, visuals and webshows consultant, Nicholas Feustel, who produced and directed the film, said: “Since this story is primarily about mothers and children, we decided to produce the film in the style of an illustrated children’s storybook. We searched for a female illustrator working in sub-Saharan Africa and found the wonderful Phathu Nembilwi of Phathu Designs.

“For our narrator, we found Upile Chisala, a storyteller from Malawi known for her short and powerful poems.”

The script by HJN’s Senior Policy Analyst, Alison Symington, was written in consultation with our Supervisory Board member, Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff, a Malawian human rights lawyer and legal researcher with over 15 years of experience in women’s access to justice.

We also worked with our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners, Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), to ensure that the film was relevant to their ongoing advocacy in the region. In fact, Mwayi’s Story had its world premiere last week on Zambia’s Diamond TV, in anticipation of a verdict in a similar breastfeeding case.

The film will be shown in a number of forums over the next few months, including at AIDS 2022. It will soon be subtitled in French, Russian and Spanish, and we are also looking for partners to translate additional subtitles if they think the film can be useful in their own advocacy. If you’re interested you can get in touch with us at breastfeeding@hivjustice.net. We will send you the English subtitle file for translation. After you return the file to us, we will upload it to YouTube.

Mwayi’s Story is part of our ongoing work to end the criminalisation of women living with HIV for breastfeeding and comfort nursing, including our Breastfeeding Defence Toolkit. It is our goal to collaborate with advocates, researchers, service providers, organisations and community members around the world to raise awareness and prevent further unjust prosecutions against women living with HIV who breastfeed or comfort nurse. We are grateful to both the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and the Robert Carr Fund for their financial support for this work, and this film.