Uganda: HIV law deters communities from seeking HIV services and should be reformed

Kaleba scolds Parliament: The AIDS law is poisonous

“Whereas the law contains important commitments by government for the HIV and AIDS response in Uganda, there are some “poisonous” clauses that could deter all the benefits realised in the fight against the scourge,” she said.

HEALTH  HIV/AIDS 

The founder of The Aids Support Organization (TASO), Noerine Kaleeba, has castigated members of parliament, saying they approved the AIDS law which is awash with numerous contentious clauses.

“Whereas the law contains important commitments by government for the HIV and AIDS response in Uganda, there are some “poisonous” clauses that could deter all the benefits realised in the fight against the scourge,” she said.

In 2014, Parliament endorsed the HIV and AIDS Prevention law, which came into effect the same year on July 31, when President Yoweri Museveni assented to it. The law seeks to provide for a legal framework geared towards the prevention and control of HIV.

Kaleeba said the contentious clauses (41 and 43) of the law provide for prosecution on grounds of attempted and intentional transmission of HIV, respectively. Among the provisions of the piece of legislation is criminal penalty for risk and intentional transmission of the virus.

The law requires mandatory disclosure of one’s HIV status, failure of which would be regarded as “criminal”, and attempting to or, intentionally transmitting the virus. Failure to use a condom where one knows their HIV status would constitute a criminal offence, making them liable for prosecution.

Speaking during the 29th Centre General Meeting (CGM) of TASO Mulago last week, Kaleeba regretted that these provisions in the law do not only stigmatise and discriminate against people living with HIV but also deter communities from seeking HIV services such as HIV Testing and subsequently HIV treatment.

TASO founder Noeline Kaleebu together with another founder Peter Ssebanja take to the flow during the 29 AGM for TASO Mulago 

She said that the clauses have fueled domestic violence in homes since the couples each blame one another for intentionally transmitting the virus. She said it is naïve to think that the person who tests first is the one who infects the other, it could be the other way round.

“Honestly, how can it be proven that indeed the HIV of the accuser was got from the accused? There is fear that public knowledge of one’s HIV positive status would be used against them due to personal differences,” she says.

She argued that this will ultimately discourage people from testing to know their status fearing that if found positive, their status could be used against them in courts of law at any point in time. It should thus be noted that one who does not know their status cannot be held liable under this law.

“We should avoid creating scenarios where people living with HIV/AIDS are looked at as criminals or potential criminals,” She says. Adding, “People will inadvertently live with the virus without accessing treatment and by the time they get to know their status it will be too late.”

Kaleeba says that both members of the previous parliament and the President (who signed the law) acted out of ignorance, and therefore made a mistake. She prays that the 10th parliament doesn’t have to keep the error, and this is urgent.

She also hailed the appointment of Winnie Byanyima as the new executive director of UNAIDS, saying it has come at the right time as we are closing the chapter of HIV/AIDS. She said Byanyima is an exceptionally good manager, and her appointment will elevate our country.

“She will definitely give a mirage to Uganda even for those who didn’t know Uganda, will come to know the country, whether they like it or not. The world will say the new UNAIDS ED comes from Uganda, and that way our reputation will be elevated. People living with HIV, therefore, need to double their efforts especially on issues of taking their medication,” she said.

“Strict adherence to treatment is where the war is. When you religiously adhere to your medication, your viral load becomes undetectable, meaning you will not transmit to others. Let us be exemplary and merit Bwanyima’s confidence.”

Responding to Kaleeba’s concerns, the guest of honour, Florence Nambozo, who is also woman MP for Sironko and chairperson HIV/AIDS committee, assured over 800 people who turned up for the CGM that she will talk to her fellow members of parliament to make sure that the law is amended.

She said Uganda is making good progress in the HIV fight and urged people living with HIV to stick to treatment since the ARVs are available and free in all government health facilities.

The Centre Program Manager TASO Mulago, Godfry Mafabi revealed that by end of July TASO Mulago had recorded a cumulative total of 7754 compared to last years’ 1145 in care against a target of 8371 to be achieved by September 2019.

Mafabi said that since the last AGM 918 clients were initiated on ART, of these 23 were children and 139 adolescents, and 756 were adults compared to 663 who were started on ART between 17 August- July 18. The suppression rate is currently at 97% surpassing the new national target of 95% target.

However, the institution is still faced with challenges of funding since the time the donors pulled out. The number of staff was also reduced at the facility to 27 from 75, which is a big setback. We are using expert clients to handle new clients, he said.

Canada: Further reform is needed to redress the harms HIV criminalization brings to the lives of women living with HIV

Recommendations on changes to HIV criminalization don’t go far enough

Earlier this summer, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released a report on Canada’s approach to criminalizing those who don’t disclose that they’re living with HIV to sexual partners.

If the Standing Committee’s recommendations are adopted, they could diminish the harms experienced by women living with HIV under Canada’s current approach to criminalization.

But further consideration and consultation are required in order to fully address the harms that the law introduces to the lives of women living with HIV.

The Supreme Court of Canada articulated the current legal approach in 2012. In so doing, the court interpreted consent and fraud provisions of Canada’s sexual assault laws and ruled that people diagnosed with HIV must disclose their status to sexual partners before engaging in sexual acts that pose a “realistic possibility of transmission.”

The court also stated that there is no legal obligation to disclose prior to sex if a condom is used and the person living with HIV has a consistently low measure of HIV in their blood. This legal understanding of a “realistic possibility” contradicts current scientific knowledge that just one of these conditions is sufficient to eliminate transmission risk.

Scientific evidence endorsed by the federal government demonstrates that an undetectable viral load eliminates the risk of sexual transmission of HIV, regardless of condom use. Similarly, there is a negligible risk of transmission when condoms are used properly, no matter an individual’s viral load.

Today, in addition to being inconsistent with current scientific evidence, HIV nondisclosure prosecutions are widely seen as unjust as they can result in harsh sentences for actions that result in little or no harm.

Canadian prosecutors and courts apply the criminal offences of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault to prosecute cases of HIV nondisclosure. The latter — one of the most serious offences in Canada’s Criminal Code — carries the possibility of a lifetime sentence and mandatory registration as a sexual offender.

Experts discuss the misuse of sexual assault law in prosecuting cases of HIV nondisclosure in Canada. From Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network & Goldelox Productions.

Women living with HIV & the law

“The law is a bigger risk to us than HIV.” Sophie

The criminalization of HIV nondisclosure was purportedly intended to protect women while reducing HIV transmission risk by promoting disclosure and safer sex practices. Instead, research indicates that punitive approaches have the opposite effects, many of them significantly harmful.

As health scientists at Simon Fraser University, we work alongside experts on two studies: the Canadian HIV and Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Study (CHIWOS), with researchers also from the University of Toronto, McGill University, University of Manitoba, University of Saskatchewan and McMaster University; and the Women, ART and the Criminalization of HIV (WATCH) study with health partners based at McMaster University.

Findings from these studies indicate that criminalization reinforces socially dominant power dynamics, stigma, marginalization and fear experienced by women living with HIV. Specifically, the current legal requirements ignore the dangers women face in both negotiating the use of condoms and status disclosure due to power inequities, particularly in dependent, violent and non-consensual relationships.


À lire aussi : Why a fulfilling sexual life with HIV matters


“I was raped by three [people …] And if I had told [them] I was HIV positive, I would have been dead. I know it. So where does that fit in the picture?” Julie

Women living with HIV who don’t disclose their status when they are sexually assaulted may themselves be convicted of a sexual offence.

Not only does criminalization contradict scientific evidence around HIV transmission risk, it compromises women’s health-care engagement and deters HIV testing since those who do not know their status cannot be prosecuted. Yet access to HIV testing, treatment and support services is scientifically proven to decrease transmission risk.

Furthermore, women who aren’t prosecuted are still harmed by the law. For example, women who have experienced emotional and physical violence by abusive partners may face the threat of partners falsely reporting that the woman didn’t disclose her HIV status.

Living under the fear of being charged has significant consequences for women’s emotional, mental and physical well-being. This is particularly important given the high rates of physical and sexual violence experienced by women living with HIV in Canada.

“It seems like an impossible situation to prove your innocence.” Miranda

These findings were shared with the Standing Committee through expert testimony by members of CHIWOS and WATCH. Such contributions are integral in moving toward an approach to criminalization that considers the realities of people living with HIV.

Women living with HIV and others share their experiences and knowledge of the criminalization of HIV nondisclosure in Canada. From Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network & Goldelox Productions.

Recommendations could go further

The Standing Committee’s report makes recommendations in a positive direction, but the recommendations need to go further to reduce harms to women living with HIV.

Firstly, the committee recommends creating a new offence in the Criminal Code for nondisclosure of an infectious disease where transmission happens. This recommendation says prosecutions should never be pursued in cases where: an individual has an undetectable viral load; condoms were used; the sexual partner of a person living with HIV is taking pre-exposure prophylactics; or the sexual act carries a negligible risk of transmission (oral sex, for example).

This suggested requirement of a new offense where actual transmission occurs would minimize, though not fully eliminate, opportunities for the law to be used as a tool of violence against women.

Though the creation of a new offence would address the current problematic use of sexual assault laws, failing to consider the intent of not disclosing is significant. In 2008, the United Nations urged states to limit prosecution of HIV nondisclosure to extremely rare cases of actual and intentional transmission.

Heed women’s experiences

Without including the element of intent, the committee has not fully addressed the vulnerability of women who may unintentionally transmit HIV during their own sexual assault or an unprotected sexual encounter. Given the widespread violence experienced by women living with HIV in Canada, this is a substantial deficiency in the recommendations.

And, given the report’s recognition that criminalization has not achieved its public-health goal of reducing HIV transmission, transmission of any infectious disease should be addressed by public-health mechanisms rather than the law.

Secondly, the report recommends ensuring that the same conditions are applied cross-country to consider whether prosecutions should proceed in cases where people haven’t disclosed that they are living with HIV. This recommendation would address the disparities in prosecutions of HIV nondisclosure and reduce various harms to people living with HIV.

Finally, the report recommends a review of all past convictions for HIV nondisclosure and increased access to anonymous testing. These measures are significant in beginning to redress the harms introduced by the current legal approach.

But to fully do that, Canada must heed all the experiences of women living with HIV.

Kazakhstan: Women living with HIV submit report to CEDAW, recommending repeal of HIV criminalisation provision in Kazakhstan penal code

Source: EWNA, published on March 11, 2019

For the first time, HIV+ women in Kazakhstan submitted a shadow report to CEDAW 

Today in Geneva, at the pre-sessional working group of the 74th meeting of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) , representatives of the community of women living with HIV, women who use drugs and sex workers from Kazakhstan presented for the first time a shadow report from civil society on rights situations for women from key groups.

In July 2018, civil society organizations submitted the Shadow Civil Society Report on Discrimination and Violence against Women Living with HIV, Women Using Drugs, Sex Workers and Women from Prisons, to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women. The report is based on studies of cases of violation of rights registered by non-governmental organizations in 2015-2017. The full report is available on the EZSS website, in Russian and English .

Here is the text of the oral statement presented by Lyubov Vorontsova, Kazakhstan Union of People Living with HIV (english text below):

“Thank you, Madam Chair.

I am a woman living with HIV from Kazakhstan and I represent the voices of women from my community.

We consider it extremely important to solve the problems of institutionalized discrimination that violates the rights of women and impedes access to health and social services, as well as contribute to social and economic vulnerability.

Women living with HIV have limited access to residential services in existing crisis centers designed to help women affected by violence. In the capital of Kazakhstan, a young girl with a child who was abused by her husband in winter is refused to be placed in an orphanage, since there is such a law and she has HIV. Article 118 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan provides for criminal penalties for putting people at risk of HIV infection, which has the opposite effect – this contributes to a higher risk of HIV infection, violence and gender inequality in the family, in the health care system, in society.

According to a study of the Stigma Index, 24.2% of women living with HIV, medical workers forced to terminate a pregnancy (abortion), 34% of women living with HIV never received advice on reproductive opportunities.

We recommend:

  • Revise Article 118. “Infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV / AIDS)” of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated July 3, 2014 No. 226-V SA-RC to abolish the provision criminalizing the risk of acquiring HIV
  • To set up offices in crisis centers to work with drug addicts and HIV-positive women. Mobilize state efforts to expand the network of crisis centers and other emergency services for women who have experienced domestic violence, and to ensure adequate public funding for these institutions.
  • Introduce changes to the Order of the Minister of Health and Social Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated December 21, 2016 No. 1079 “On approval of the standard for providing special social services to victims of domestic violence”, limiting the possibility of women living with HIV in crisis centers.

Women who use drugs report the extreme prevalence of police brutality. Due to stigmatization, pregnant drug-addicted women cannot take advantage of necessary medical services, including drug treatment, antenatal care and post-natal care. Opioid substitution therapy is not available for women when they are hospitalized in any medical institution (including maternity hospitals, tuberculosis dispensaries, etc.).Immediately after childbirth, women are forced to travel independently to the substitution therapy program in order to receive drug support with methadone.

The rights of sex workers by medical personnel are violated, in particular, the humiliation of dignity, the infliction of physical and psychological violence, and the disclosure of HIV-positive status to third parties. For this reason, sex workers refuse timely diagnosis in medical institutions.

We recommend:

  • Develop and adopt a humanization policy for women who use drugs, laws and practices based on respect for human rights, which will protect and eliminate any discrimination and violence against women.
  • Include in the complex of preventive programs to combat HIV and AIDS at the local and national levels, training for police officers to reduce stigma and discrimination against women from vulnerable groups.
  • Actively investigate incidents of violence and any unlawful acts committed by law enforcement officers against sex workers, women who use drugs, and reported by public organizations.
  • Develop mechanisms for ensuring personal security and confidentiality that will allow women to report incidents of violence without fear for their safety.
  • Provide government funding for the provision of free family planning services, in particular contraception for marginalized and vulnerable women.
  • Provide training for medical personnel in providing quality sexual and reproductive health services for women living with HIV, sex workers and women who use drugs.
  • Include a substitution therapy program in the national health care system and drug practice, with further expansion and scaling in Kazakhstan, as well as develop mechanisms for access to treatment of opioid substitution therapy in hospitals (tub dispensary, maternity hospitals and others)

In Kazakhstan, there are no studies and disaggregated data in open sources regarding women prisoners. In the fifth periodic report, the state provides data on legislation that provides access to medical services for female prisoners. But this does not answer the question of whether it meets the needs of female prisoners.

We recommend:

  • Conduct research on the degree of satisfaction with women’s sexual and reproductive health services in places of detention, including data on women living with HIV and drug addicts, characterizing their access to antiretroviral treatment and drug treatment, including opioid substitution therapy. ”

ВПЕРВЫЕ ВИЧ+ ЖЕНЩИНЫ КАЗАХСТАНА ПРЕДСТАВИЛИ ТЕНЕВОЙ ОТЧЕТ В КЛДЖ

Сегодня в Женеве, на предсессионной рабочей группе 74 заседания Комитета ООН по ликвидации всех форм дискриминации в отношении женщин (CEDAW), представительницы сообщества женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, женщин употребляющих наркотики и секс-работниц из Казахстана, впервые представили теневой отчёт от гражданского общества о ситуации с нарушением прав в отношении женщин из ключевых групп.

В июле 2018 г. организациями гражданского общества был подан «Теневой отчет гражданского сообщества о дискриминации и насилии в отношении женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, женщин, употребляющих наркотики, секс — работниц и женщин из мест лишения свободы» в Комитет ООН по ликвидации всех форм дискриминации в отношении женщин. Отчет основан на исследованиях, случаях нарушения прав, зарегистрированных неправительственными организациями в 2015-2017 гг. С полным отчетом можно ознакомиться на сайте ЕЖСС, на русскоми английском языках.

Приводим текст устного заявления, которое представила Любовь Воронцова, Казахстанский Союз Людей, Живущих с ВИЧ (english text below):

«Спасибо, госпожа Председатель.

Я женщина, живущая с ВИЧ из Казахстана, и представляю голоса женщин из своего сообщества.

Мы считаем крайне важным решить проблемы институционализированной дискриминации, которая нарушает права женщин и препятствует доступу к медицинским и социальным услугам, а также способствуют социальной и экономической уязвимости.

Женщины, живущие с ВИЧ, имеют ограниченный доступ к услугам проживания в существующих кризисных центрах, предназначенных для помощи женщинам, пострадавшим от насилия. В столице Казахстана молодая девушка с ребенком, которая зимой подверглась насилию со стороны мужа, получает отказ быть помещенным в приют, поскольку существует такой закон и у нее ВИЧ. Cтатья 118 Уголовного Кодекса Казахстана предусматривает уголовное наказание за постановку в риск заражения ВИЧ, что имеет обратный эффект — это способствует более высокому риску заражения ВИЧ, насилия и гендерного неравенства в семье, в системе здравоохранения, в обществе.

По результатам исследования Индекс Стигмы 24,2% женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, медицинские работники принуждали к прерыванию беременности (аборту), 34% женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, никогда не получали консультацию по репродуктивным возможностям.

Мы рекомендуем:

  • Пересмотреть Статью 118. «Заражение вирусом иммунодефицита человека (ВИЧ/СПИД)» Уголовного кодекса РК от 3 июля 2014 года № 226-V ЗРК, чтобы отменить норму, устанавливающую уголовную ответственность за риск заражения ВИЧ.
  • Создать отделения в кризисных центрах для работы с наркозависимыми и ВИЧ-положительными женщинами. Мобилизовать усилия государства по расширению сети кризисных центров и других служб экстренной помощи женщинам, пережившим домашнее насилие, гарантировать адекватное государственное финансирование для этих учреждений.
  • Внести изменения в Приказ Министра здравоохранения и социального развития Республики Казахстан от 21 декабря 2016 года № 1079 «Об утверждении стандарта оказания специальных социальных услуг жертвам бытового насилия», ограничивающий возможность пребывания в кризисных центрах женщин, живущих с ВИЧ.

Женщины, употребляющие наркотики, сообщают о крайней распространенности жестокости полиции. Из-за стигматизации беременные наркозависимые женщины не могут воспользоваться необходимыми медицинскими услугами, в том числе наркологической, дородовой и послеродовой помощью. Опиоидная заместительная терапия не доступна для женщин при госпитализации в любые медицинские учреждения (включая родильные дома, противотуберкулезные диспансеры и т.д.). Сразу после родов женщины вынуждены самостоятельно добираться до программы заместительной терапии, чтобы получить лекарственную поддержку метадоном.

Нарушаются права секс-работниц со стороны медицинского персонала, в частности, унижение достоинства, причинение физического и психологического насилия, раскрытие ВИЧ-положительного статуса третьим лицам. По этой причине секс-работницы отказываются от своевременной диагностики в медицинских учреждениях

Мы рекомендуем:

  • Разработать и принять политику гуманизации в отношении женщин, употребляющих наркотики, законов и практик, основанных на уважении прав человека, которые обеспечат защиту и исключают любую дискриминацию и насилие в отношении женщин.
  • Включить в комплекс профилактических программ по противодействию ВИЧ и СПИД на местном и национальном уровнях обучающие мероприятия для полицейских о снижении стигмы и дискриминации по отношению к женщинам из уязвимых групп.
  • Активно расследовать случаи насилия и любых незаконных действий, совершенных сотрудниками правоохранительных органов против секс-работниц, женщин, употребляющих наркотики, зарегистрированных и сообщенных общественными организациями.
  • Разработать механизмы обеспечения личной безопасности и конфиденциальности, которые позволят женщинам сообщать о случаях насилия без страха за свою безопасность.
  • Обеспечить государственное финансирование на предоставление бесплатных услуг по планированию семьи, в частности контрацепции для маргинализированных и уязвимых женщин.
  • Обеспечить подготовку медицинского персонала по предоставлению качественных услуг по сексуальному и репродуктивному здоровью для женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, секс-работниц и женщин, употребляющих наркотики.
  • Включить программу заместительной терапии в национальную систему здравоохранения и наркологическую практику, с дальнейшим расширением и масштабированием в Казахстане, а так же разработать механизмы для доступа к лечению опиоидной заместительной терапии в условиях стационаров (тубдиспансер, родильные дома и другие)

В Казахстане отсутствуют исследования и дезагрегированные данные в открытых источниках в отношении женщин-заключенных. В пятом периодическом докладе государство приводит данные о законодательных актах, которые обеспечивают доступ к медицинским услугам для женщин-заключенных. Но, это не отвечает на вопрос о том, удовлетворяет ли это потребности женщин-заключенных.

Мы рекомендуем:

  • Провести исследования о степени удовлетворения услугами по сохранению сексуального и репродуктивного здоровья женщин в местах лишения свободы, включая данные о женщинах, живущих с ВИЧ и наркозависимых, характеризирующие их доступ к антиретровирусному лечению и наркологической помощи, включая опиоидную заместительную терапию.»

Canada: Workshops find that HIV non-disclosure laws are little known amongst women living with HIV and contribute to social injustices

Published in aidsmap on February 4th, 2019

HIV non-disclosure laws perpetuate social injustices against women in Canada

Krishen Samuel
Published: 05 February 2019

People living with HIV in Canada can be charged with aggravated sexual assault and be registered as sexual offenders if they do not disclose their HIV status, but many HIV-positive women have little knowledge of this law, according to a recent qualitative study. The law contributes to increased HIV-related stigma, social injustices and vulnerability to violence for women living with HIV, argue Dr Saara Greene and colleagues.

Forty eight women took part in seven arts-based workshops which each took place over a four-day period. Each workshop included an education session regarding the legal implications of non-disclosure, followed by a focus group discussion that allowed women to share thoughts, feelings and concerns regarding the law.

Canada is one of many countries that continues to criminalise non-disclosure of HIV positive status in sexual acts between consenting individuals. Transmission of the virus does not need to occur: a person can be prosecuted for exposure to the virus in the absence of transmission.

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada clarified its position on HIV transmission, ruling that people living with HIV are legally required to disclose their status to sexual partners before engaging in sexual activities that pose a ‘realistic possibility of transmission’. According to the Court, two combined factors could be used as a defense against this realistic possibility of transmission: a low plasma viral load (under 1500 copies/ml) and the use of a condom.

Thus, the law does not acknowledge biomedical advances that conclusively show transmission is impossible if the infected individual is virally suppressed (see our factsheet on undetectable viral load and transmission). The ruling leaves room for those engaging in condomless sex with an undetectable viral load to be prosecuted. In Canada, a charge of aggravated sexual assault could carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and registration on the sex offender registry.

A more recent 2018 federal directive issued by the attorney general states that a person living with HIV who has maintained a suppressed viral load (under 200 copies/ml of blood) should not be prosecuted, because there is no realistic possibility of transmission. However, this directive only applies in Canada’s three territories and not in the provinces where the vast majority of the population live. Advocates are calling on the provinces to issue similar directives.

The workshops were carried out in 2016 and 2017, in three Canadaian provinces (Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia). The median age of participants was 47 (range: 30-59); the majority of women were Indigenous (60%), with only a small percentage of white women (8%). It was important for minority women to be oversampled as HIV prevalence is nearly three times higher in Indigenous peoples across Canada, with high rates of HIV diagnoses occurring in young Indigenous women. Additionally, 42% of women charged with HIV non-disclosure are Indigenous.

Most women were heterosexual (73%), cisgender (94%) and born in Canada (79%). One-third of women were single, with 29% reporting a common-law relationship.

Analysis of the focus group discussions revealed the following themes:

Confusion and concerns regarding the law

Overall, the education sessions revealed that women were largely unfamiliar with and poorly-informed about laws pertaining to non-disclosure. Questions and concerns were related to legal implications (such as a whether charges could be brought against them for exposure in the absence of transmission or for sexual interactions several years ago). Several women asked what it meant to have a low viral load.

Social and legal injustice

Women felt that the law perpetuates existing injustices in the lives of diagnosed HIV positive women. Thus, factors such as stigma, sexism, racism, colonialism and a lack of education might put those already disadvantaged at a higher risk of being criminalised.

“Like even this isn’t accessible or something understandable for some of my people because we have literacy issues. Some of our people, they left residential school at grade 6 and grade 8…” (Jaqueline, Saskatchewan, speaking about a legal factsheet given to participants)

A contradiction inherent in HIV non-disclosure criminalisation law is that while individuals who are unaware of their HIV status and have a high viral load are more likely to unknowingly infect others, these individuals cannot be prosecuted under Canadian law as intent cannot be proven. The women expressed that the law unjustly targets those who are diagnosed:

“…When I was first diagnosed, I had a higher viral load because I wasn’t being treated. And so actually the silent people who don’t know are more at risk of passing it on. So, who is this [law] even protecting? We are the least likely to pass it on.” (Lori, British Columbia)

As a result of assault laws being used in non-disclosure cases, a common sentiment expressed by women living with HIV was that they were carrying a biological weapon. Thus, HIV stigma was internalised, as a result of the legal system depicting women as capable of inflicting serious harm on their partners:

“…If I was going to go over there and stab [participant] with a knife, that’s aggravated assault. So, they’re taking that knife away and using HIV. I may not have given it to her. So, it’s like the knife never even touched her or the knife wasn’t used. I’m still charged.” (Rachelle, British Columbia)

Sexual surveillance

Participants expressed a sense that they were under surveillance by the criminal justice system when it came to their sex lives. In order to prove innocence, women would need to provide evidence of both a low viral load and condom use, or of disclosure.

The researchers labelled this an ‘intimate injustice’, with HIV-positive women needing to prove their innocence within an inherently unjust and oppressive system. The lengths that women would have to go through to prove this innocence is reflected here:

“So how many people do you have in that room? You have the lawyer that’s witnessing the paper that you’re signing that you’ve disclosed. You have the doctor to say, ‘Yeah, you’re under a viral load’. You’ve got the forensic scientist there getting any evidence. You know, everybody is watching.” (Lilian, British Columbia)

A common question related to undetectability was:

‘So when I look at it, I’m undetectable. So, I cannot transmit HIV to who I’m going to have sex with. So why is it any of their business that I have it when I’m undetectable?’

Another common question was how to prove that a condom was used or that disclosure had occurred after a sexual encounter had taken place. It could come down to a ‘he said, she said’ situation, with the HIV-positive woman needing some form of conclusive proof that she had used a condom or disclosed her status prior to engaging in sexual contact.

“Okay, so say I had a sexual partner. I just met this guy. And my CD4 count is 880. I’m undetectable. But I’ve got to tell him before we get into bed. Do I need to make him sign a document and lock it up and have it witnessed by the neighbor?” (Zainab, Ontario)

Vulnerability to violence

Non-disclosure laws may place women at greater risk for violence. As many as 80% of Canadian women living with HIV have experienced violence in adulthood and the requirement to disclose HIV status to sexual partners could increase the likelihood of intimate partner violence by placing women in a vulnerable position.

Women expressed that they do not always have control over when or how sex occurs with their partners; this negates their agency when it comes to negotiating condom use or disclosing their HIV status.

There was also the question of how disclosure applied in cases of domestic abuse and rape. The law would require women to disclose to abusive partners, placing them at risk of even more violence. The troubling nature of this was expressed in this quote:

“I was raped by three [people] in [Canadian city]. They broke into my home and they held me prisoner for 24 hours and beat me and raped me. And if I had told him I was HIV positive, I would have been dead. I know it. So where does that fit in the picture?” (Julie, British Columbia)

Additionally, the law could be used against HIV-positive women by vindictive partners wishing to ‘punish’ them. Many women had been threatened with charges for non-disclosure by disgruntled partners:

“Could they turn around and even if you’re honest and told them, then … they lied and said, ‘Well, I caught it from her’, or him. And they go to the police and get them charged, just out to be spiteful and mean.” (Catherine, Saskatchewan)

Concerns over violence were particularly salient for Indigenous women:

“When you include the Indigenous community and the numbers and statistics there, like we’re already like 10 times the rate of being gone missing, murdered and, you know, facing violence every day. So, when you throw in … you know, HIV, you know, like it just becomes sometimes not even safe. A lot of people stay in very vulnerable situations because of this law…” (Jaqueline, Saskatchewan)

Conclusion

The researchers conclude that for women living with HIV in Canada, non-disclosure laws can lead to unjust victimisation, perpetuating legal and social injustices. Many of the women did not have the necessary legal knowledge to fully understand the implications of their sexual behaviour to begin with. HIV-related stigma has become legally entrenched and results in women who are anxious about sexual encounters and fearful that they will need to find ways of proving their innocence. Non-disclosure laws may also lead to increased violence against women.

When combined with factors such as sexism, racism, colonialism and violence against women, HIV criminalisation results in continued oppression and thus, advocacy for legal reform is necessary and urgent. The recent federal directive is a step in the right direction but it will still take some time for this to filter down to provincial police and prosecutors.

Reference

Greene S et al. How women living with HIV react and respond to learning about Canadian law that criminalises HIV non-disclosure: ‘how do you prove that you told?’ Culture, Health & Sexuality online ahead of print, 2019. (Abstract).

Livestream: Beyond Blame – Challenging HIV Criminalisation: Building Bridges Across Movements: Linking HIV Criminalisation With the Criminalisation of Abortion, Drug Use, Gender Expression, Sexuality and Sex Work (HJN, 2018)

Welcome by Luisa Cabal (UNAIDS) Moderator: Susana Fried (CREA and Global Health Justice Partnership) With: Ricki Kgositau (AIDS Accountability International), Oriana López Uribe (BALANCE / RESURJ), Nthabiseng Mokoena (ARASA), Niluka Perera (Youth Voices Count), Jaime Todd-Gher (Amnesty International), Kay Thi Win (Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers)

Livestream: Beyond Blame – Challenging HIV Criminalisation: Plenary 2 (HJN, 2018)

Welcome to BEYOND BLAME – Challenging HIV Criminalisation, live from De Balie in Amsterdam, 23 July 2018.

11:2012:10 What About Human Rights? The Benefits and Pitfalls of Using Science in Our Advocacy to End HIV Criminalisation Facilitator: Laurel Sprague (UNAIDS) With: Chris Beyrer (John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), Edwin Cameron (Constitutional Court of South Africa), Richard Elliott (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network), Lynette Mabote (ARASA), Paula Munderi (IAPAC)

12:1013:00 Women and HIV Criminalisation: Feminist Perspectives Facilitator: Naina Khanna (Positive Women’s Network – USA) With: Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff (Women’s Lawyers Association, Malawi), Michaela Clayton (ARASA), Kristin Dunn (AIDS Saskatoon), Deon Haywood (Women With A Vision)

France: HIV criminalisation laws have a disproportionate impact on women

HIV: The share of women!

For the 8th of March, International Women’s Rights Day, Seronet takes stock of some figures on HIV related to women worldwide.

HIV in the world: women’s numbers

In 2015, globally, about 17.8 million women (aged 15 and over) were living with HIV, equivalent to 51% of the total population living with HIV. About 900,000 of the 1.9 million new HIV infections worldwide in 2015 – 47 percent – were women. It is young women and girls aged 15 to 24 who are particularly affected. Globally, about 2.3 million adolescent girls and young women were living with HIV in 2015, representing 60% of the entire population of young people (aged 15 to 24) living with HIV. 58% of new HIV infections among 15-24 year olds in 2015 were among adolescent girls and young women.

According to the same source, regional differences in new cases of HIV infection among young women and the proportion of women (aged 15 and over) living with HIV compared to men are considerable. They are even more important between young women (aged 15 to 24) and infected young men. In sub-Saharan Africa, 56% of new HIV infections occurred in women, and the rate was even higher among young women aged 15 to 24, accounting for 66% of new infections.

In the Caribbean, women accounted for 35% of newly infected adults, and 46% of new infections occurred among young women aged 15 to 24 years. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 31% of new cases of HIV infection have affected women; however, the rate of new infections among young women aged 15 to 24 reached 46%. In the Middle East and North Africa, women represent 38% of newly infected adults, while 48% of young women aged 15 to 24 are newly infected. In Western Europe, Central Europe and North America, 22% of new infections occurred in women, the highest rate among young women aged 15 to 24, with 29% of new infections (1).

Inequalities between women themselves

Some women are more exposed to HIV than others. This is a function of belonging to certain groups. The incidence of HIV in specific groups of women is disproportionate. According to an analysis of studies measuring the cumulative prevalence of HIV in 50 countries, it is estimated that sex workers around the world are about 14 times more likely to be infected with HIV than other women of childbearing age. (2). In addition, data from 30 countries indicate that the cumulative prevalence of HIV among women who inject drugs was 13%, compared to 9% among men who inject drugs (3).

A feminization of the HIV epidemic in France

Over the years, the HIV / AIDS epidemic has been strongly feminized in France too: the share of new diagnoses has increased in France from 13% in 1987 to 33% in 2009. Heterosexual contamination is the main vector of HIV transmission (54% of HIV-positive discoveries) and women make up the majority of these infections. Compared to men, they are infected younger.

In France, women account for about 30% of new HIV infections each year, a significant proportion of whom are born abroad and especially in sub-Saharan Africa. If we look at the 2016 data, we note that among heterosexuals, the majority of diagnostics relates to 2,300 people born abroad. 80% are born in sub-Saharan Africa and 63% are women. Late-stage discoveries are more specific to men than women.

Migrant women, in greater numbers than men in France, suffer more problems related to sexual health: complications specific to pregnancy and childbirth and sexual violence. These states are dependent on the conditions of the country of origin (sexual mutilation, forced marriages), and migration (rape, trafficking in human beings). They can be strengthened upon arrival in the host country, as the period of installation often corresponds to a period of health and social precariousness, which increases the risks of exposure to HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

What factors exacerbate the prevalence of HIV?

It’s obvious … but it’s worth remembering. Violence against women and girls increases their risk of HIV infection (4). A study in South Africa found that the link between intimate partner violence and HIV was more pronounced in the presence of domineering behaviour and high HIV prevalence.

In some settings, up to 45% of adolescent girls report that their first sexual experience was forced. Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married before their eighteenth birthday. Often, they have limited access to prevention information and limited means to protect themselves from HIV infection. Worldwide, out of ten adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24, only three of them have complete and accurate knowledge of HIV (5). Lack of information on HIV prevention and the inability to use such information in the context of sexual relations, including in the context of marriage, undermine women’s ability to negotiate condom use and engage in safer sex, says UN Women.

Seropositivity: a double sentence for women

Other data indicate that women living with HIV are at increased risk of violence (6), including violations of their sexual and reproductive rights (reproductive health). Cases of involuntary or forced sterilization and forced abortions among women living with HIV have been reported in at least fourteen countries. In addition, legal standards directly affect the level of risk for women to contract HIV, says the UN Women. In many countries where women are most at risk, the laws that are supposed to protect them are ineffective. The lack of legal rights reinforces women’s subordinate status, particularly with regard to women’s rights to divorce, to possess and inherit property, to enter into contracts, to prosecute and to testify in court, to consent to medical treatment and open a bank account. Discriminatory laws on the criminalization of HIV transmission can also have a disproportionate impact on women, as they are more vulnerable to being tested for HIV and to find out whether or not they are infected with HIV when they access healthcare for their pregnancy. HIV-positive mothers are considered criminals under HIV-related laws in several countries in West and Central Africa, which explicitly or implicitly prohibits them from being pregnant or breastfeeding. for fear that they might transmit the virus to the fetus or to the child (7).

The response to HIV for women

Globally, between 76% and 77% of pregnant women have had access to antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, says UN Women (data for 2015). Despite this encouraging rate, more than half of the 21 priority countries of the UNAIDS Global Plan were unable to meet the need for family planning services for at least 25% of all married women. Another element is that governments are increasingly recognizing the importance of gender equality in HIV interventions at the national level. However, only 57% (out of the 104 countries that submitted data) had a specific budget. For their part, Global Fund expenditures on women and girls have increased from 42 percent of its total portfolio in 2013 to about 60 percent in 2015.

(1): UNAIDS, 2015 estimates from the AIDSinfo online database. Additional disaggregated data correspond to unpublished estimates provided by UNAIDS for 2015, derived from country-specific AIDS epidemic models.

(2) : Stefan Baral and al. (15 mars 2012), “Burden of HIV among female sex workers in low-income and middle-income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis”, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, vol. 12, no 7. p. 542.

(3) : UNAIDS (2014) The Gap Report, p. 175.

(4) : R. Jewkes and al. (2006) « Factors Associated with HIV Sero-Status in Young Rural South African Women: Connections between Intimate Partner Violence and HIV », International Journal of Epidemiology, 35, p. 1461-1468 ;

(5) : UNAIDS (2015) 2015 Report on World AIDS Day “On the Fast-Track to end AIDS by 2030: Focus on Location and Population“, p. 75.

(6) : WHO and UNAIDS (2010) “Addressing violence against women and HIV/AIDS: What works?“, p. 33.

(7) : Commission mondiale sur le VIH et le droit (2012) « Risques, droit et santé », p. 23.

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VIH : La part des femmes!

A l’occasion du 8 mars, Journée international des droits des femmes, Seronet fait le point sur quelques chiffres relatifs au VIH concernant les femmes dans le monde.

VIH dans le monde : la part des femmes

En 2015, à l’échelle mondiale, environ 17,8 millions de femmes (âgées de 15 ans et plus) vivaient avec le VIH, soit 51 % de toute la population vivant avec le VIH. Environ 900 000 des 1,9 million des nouveaux cas d’infection par le VIH constatés dans le monde en 2015 – soit 47 % – ont concerné des femmes. Ce sont les jeunes femmes et les adolescentes de 15 à 24 ans qui sont particulièrement touchées. A niveau mondial, environ 2,3 millions d’adolescentes et de jeunes femmes vivaient avec le VIH en 2015, représentant 60 % de toute la population de jeunes (de 15 à 24 ans) vivant avec le VIH. 58 % des nouveaux cas d’infection par le VIH chez les jeunes de 15 à 24 ans en 2015 touchaient des adolescentes et des jeunes femmes.

Selon la même source, les différences régionales concernant les nouveaux cas d’infection par le VIH chez les jeunes femmes et la proportion de femmes (âgées de 15 ans et plus) vivant avec le VIH par rapport aux hommes sont considérables. Elles sont encore plus importantes entre les jeunes femmes (âgées de 15 à 24 ans) et les jeunes hommes infectés. En Afrique subsaharienne, 56 % des nouveaux cas d’infection par le VIH ont touché des femmes, et ce taux a été encore plus élevé chez les jeunes femmes de 15 à 24 ans, représentant 66 % des nouveaux cas d’infection.

Dans les Caraïbes, les femmes ont représenté 35 % des adultes nouvellement infectés, et 46 % des nouveaux cas d’infections ont touché les jeunes femmes de 15 à 24 ans. En Europe de l’Est et en Asie centrale, 31 % des nouveaux cas d’infection par le VIH ont touché des femmes ; toutefois, le taux des nouveaux cas d’infection touchant les jeunes femmes de 15 à 24 ans a atteint 46 %. Au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique du Nord, les femmes représentent 38 % des adultes nouvellement infectés, alors que 48 % des jeunes femmes de 15 à 24 ans sont nouvellement infectées. En Europe occidentale, en Europe centrale et en Amérique du Nord, 22 % des nouveaux cas d’infection ont touché des femmes, ce taux étant plus élevé chez les jeunes femmes de 15 à 24 ans, avec 29 % de nouveaux cas d’infection (1).

Des inégalités entre les femmes elles-mêmes

Certaines femmes sont plus exposées au VIH que d’autres. C’est notamment fonction de l’appartenance à certaines groupes. L’incidence du VIH sur certains groupes spécifiques de femmes est disproportionnée. Selon une analyse d’études mesurant la prévalence cumulée du VIH dans 50 pays, on estime que, dans le monde, les travailleuses du sexe ont environ 14 fois plus de risques d’être infectées par le VIH que les autres femmes en âge de procréer (2). Par ailleurs, d’après des données émanant de 30 pays, la prévalence cumulée du VIH chez les femmes qui consomment des drogues injectables était de 13 %, contre 9 % chez les hommes qui consomment des drogues injectables (3).

Une féminisation de l’épidémie de VIH en France

Au fil des années, l’épidémie à VIH/sida s’est fortement féminisée en France aussi : la part de nouveaux diagnostics est passée, en France, de 13 % en 1987 à 33 % en 2009. La contamination hétérosexuelle est le principal vecteur de transmission du VIH (54 % des découvertes de séropositivité) et les femmes constituent la majorité de ces contaminations. Par rapport aux hommes, elles sont contaminées plus jeunes.

En France, les femmes représentent environ 30 % des nouvelles contaminations par le VIH chaque année, une part importante d’entre elles sont nées à l’étranger et en particulier en Afrique subsaharienne. Si on regarde les données de 2016, on note que les hétérosexuels, la majorité des découvertes de séropositivité est constituée par les 2 300 personnes nées à l’étranger. Il s’agit à 80 % de personnes nées en Afrique subsaharienne et à 63 % de femmes. Les découvertes à un stade avancé concernent plus particulièrement les hommes que les femmes.

Les femmes migrantes, en plus grand nombre que les hommes en France, subissent plus de problèmes liés à la santé sexuelle : complications propres à la grossesse et à l’accouchement, violences sexuelles. Ces états sont dépendants des conditions du pays d’origine (mutilations sexuelles, mariages forcés), et du parcours migratoire (viols, trafic d’êtres humains). Ils peuvent être renforcés à l’arrivée dans le pays d’accueil, la période d’installation correspondant souvent à une période de précarité sanitaire et sociale, qui accroît les risques d’exposition aux VIH et aux infections sexuellement transmissibles.

Quels facteurs exacerbent la prévalence du VIH ?

C’est une évidence… mais qu’il est bon de rappeler. La violence à l’égard des femmes et des filles augmente leurs risques d’infection par le VIH (4). Une étude menée en Afrique du Sud a démontré que le lien entre la violence infligée par un partenaire intime et le VIH était plus marqué en présence d’un comportement dominateur et d’une prévalence élevée du VIH.

Dans certains contextes, jusqu’à 45 % des adolescentes indiquent que leur première expérience sexuelle a été forcée. Dans le monde, plus de 700 millions de femmes en vie aujourd’hui ont été mariées avant leur dix-huitième anniversaire. Souvent, elles disposent d’un accès restreint aux informations de prévention, et de moyens limités pour se protéger contre une infection par le VIH. A l’échelle mondiale, sur dix adolescentes et jeunes femmes de 15 à 24 ans, seulement trois d’entre elles ont des connaissances complètes et exactes sur le VIH (5). Le manque d’informations sur la prévention du VIH et l’impossibilité d’utiliser de telles informations dans le cadre de relations sexuelles, y compris dans le contexte du mariage, compromettent la capacité des femmes à négocier le port d’un préservatif et à s’engager dans des pratiques sexuelles plus sûres, rappelle l’ONU Femmes.

La séropositivité : une double peine pour les femmes

D’autres données indiquent que les femmes vivant avec le VIH sont davantage exposées à des actes de violence (6), y compris des violations de leurs droits sexuels et génésiques (la santé reproductive). Des cas de stérilisation involontaire ou forcée et d’avortements forcés chez les femmes vivant avec le VIH ont été signalés dans au moins quatorze pays. De plus, les normes juridiques affectent directement le niveau de risque pour les femmes de contracter le VIH, rappelle l’Onu Femmes. Dans bon nombre de pays où les femmes y sont le plus exposées, les lois qui sont censées les protéger sont inefficaces. Le manque de droits juridiques renforce le statut de subordination des femmes, en particulier au regard des droits des femmes de divorcer, de posséder et d’hériter de biens, de conclure des contrats, de lancer des poursuites et de témoigner devant un tribunal, de consentir à un traitement médical et d’ouvrir un compte bancaire. Par ailleurs, les lois discriminatoires sur la criminalisation de la transmission du VIH peuvent avoir des répercussions disproportionnées sur les femmes, car elles sont plus exposées à être soumises à des tests de dépistage et ainsi à savoir si elles sont ou non infectées lors de soins au cours de la grossesse. Les mères séropositives sont considérées comme des criminelles en vertu de toutes les lois relatives au VIH en vigueur dans plusieurs pays en Afrique de l’Ouest et en Afrique centrale, ce qui leur interdit, explicitement ou implicitement, d’être enceintes ou d’allaiter, de crainte qu’elles transmettent le virus au fœtus ou à l’enfant (7).

La réponse face au VIH pour les femmes

A l’échelle mondiale, entre 76 et 77 % des femmes enceintes ont eu accès à des médicaments antirétroviraux pour prévenir la transmission du VIH de la mère à l’enfant, indique l’Onu Femmes (données pour 2015). Malgré ce taux encourageant, plus de la moitié des 21 pays prioritaires du Plan mondial d’Onusida ne parvenaient pas à répondre aux besoins en services de planning familial d’au moins 25 % de l’ensemble des femmes mariées. Autre élément : les gouvernements reconnaissent de plus en plus l’importance de l’égalité des sexes dans les interventions face au VIH qui sont menées à l’échelle nationale. Cependant, seulement 57 % (sur les 104 pays qui ont soumis des données) d’entre eux disposaient d’un budget spécifique. De leur côté, les dépenses du Fonds mondial de lutte contre le sida consacrées aux femmes et aux filles ont augmenté, passant de 42 % de son portefeuille total en 2013 à environ 60 % en 2015.

(1) : Onusida, estimations de 2015 provenant de la base de données en ligne AIDSinfo. Les données désagrégées supplémentaires correspondent aux estimations non publiées fournies par l’Onusida pour 2015, obtenues à partir de modèles des épidémies de sida spécifiques aux pays.

(2) : Stefan Baral et al. (15 mars 2012), “Burden of HIV among female sex workers in low-income and middle-income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis”, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, vol. 12, no 7. p. 542.

(3) : Onusida (2014) The Gap Report, p. 175.

(4) : R. Jewkes et al. (2006) « Factors Associated with HIV Sero-Status in Young Rural South African Women: Connections between Intimate Partner Violence and HIV », International Journal of Epidemiology, 35, p. 1461-1468 ;

(5) : Onusida (2015) Rapport 2015 sur la Journée mondiale de lutte contre le sida “On the Fast-Track to end AIDS by 2030: Focus on Location and Population“, p. 75.

(6) : L’OMS et ONUSIDA (2010) “Addressing violence against women and HIV/AIDS: What works?“, p. 33.

(7) : Commission mondiale sur le VIH et le droit (2012) « Risques, droit et santé », p. 23.

Published in Seronet on March 7, 2018

Ukraine: HIV stigma, threats of violence and a culture of blame make women fearful of disclosing their status or seeking care

Women with HIV abused by partners, rejected by society

Shunned by relatives, doctors and the community, Ukrainian women struggle to survive and protect their children.

by

Kiev, Ukraine – In October 2012, 31-year-old Hanna Lilina, a Donetsk-native, was told she had HIV during a pre-natal check-up.

When she found out, she felt confused.

“I started to clean my apartment obsessively as if people could contract HIV just by touching a surface. I didn’t understand it, I was so afraid and paranoid,” she says.

Lilina became infected with HIV after having unprotected sex with her boyfriend, whom she suspects contracted the virus by sharing a needle with friends who injected opium.

He had been an abusive partner, and so by the time she discovered she had the virus, they had already parted ways.

“At first, it was just emotional abuse. Then he started to beat me, especially after he had been drinking. It was always worse then,” she says.

Lilina left her partner to rebuild her life in Kiev.

“Telling my family was difficult. My parents were shocked and upset at first but now they’re very supportive. However, my sister immediately assumed that I was a drug addict. She hates me and wants nothing to do with me.”

In Kiev, she started a new relationship.

But when her new boyfriend found out about the virus, “he started acting differently around me”, she says.

“When I was seven months pregnant, he tried to get me to have an abortion. By the time the baby was born, he had left me.”

Ukraine has one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with approximately 240,000 people living with the virus and a prevalence of 0.9 percent in the general adult population.

In Ukraine, 35 percent of women living with HIV have experienced violence from a partner or husband since the age of 15, compared to 19 percent of women who do not have HIV, according to a November 2016 survey by Positive Women, a Ukrainian NGO.

Approximately half of the 1,000 HIV-positive women surveyed across the country had no support after they suffered violence.

“There is an epidemic of gender-based violence in many regions of the world, disproportionately affecting women and girls, making them more vulnerable to becoming infected with HIV,” Vinay P. Saldanha, UNAIDS regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, tells Al Jazeera.

‘A culture of blame’

According to UN Women, women living with HIV are more likely to experience violence, including violations of their sexual and reproductive rights.

“Involuntary and coerced sterilisation and forced abortion among women living with HIV has been reported in at least 14 countries worldwide,” UN Women reports.

“The relationship between violence and HIV is complicated, but a significant factor is the culture of blame that surrounds HIV.

“In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as in many other regions, the blame for HIV tends to fall on women,” says Saldanha.

Women are also often the first in a couple to learn of HIV in the family as the coverage of HIV testing and treatment in Ukraine is higher among women.

Most women are tested for HIV at least once at gynaecology and obstetrics clinics.

“It can tragically unfold that her husband or sexual partner points the finger of blame at her, even if her male partner was the one to infect her with HIV.

“In such a situation, she is at potential risk of domestic and sexual violence.”

The consequences can be life-threatening.

“As a result, a woman’s de-facto response can be to refrain from telling her family or partner that she has HIV, and she might even be too afraid to seek out the life-saving health services available,” says Saldanha.

And even if a woman does want treatment, it is not always guaranteed.

In some cases, women are unable to access medical support because their partners refuse to pay for travel to the hospital.

“‘You can get treatment, just not with my money,’ is what they say. But when a woman is financially dependent, what can she do?,” says Sofia, an HIV-positive officer working for the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, the country’s largest patient organisation.

The situation became so precarious that in May 2017, the Positive Women NGO filed a joint report to the United Nations on the violations of women’s rights, along with other civil society organisations representing drug-users, sex workers and members of the LGBT community.

“In small towns and the provinces, the situation is particularly difficult. It can be impossible for an HIV-positive woman to find a gynaecologist who will voluntarily examine or simply look at her,” says a member of Positive Women, who wished to remain anonymous.

“It’s only on the orders of high authorities that doctors will agree to an examination. And these are cases involving ‘safe’ women.”

If a woman is considered “unsafe” – an alcoholic, drug-user or sex worker – she cannot even enter a doctor’s office.

A community’s attitude to HIV can be so unsupportive that patients are often harassed or forced out.

“Doctor’s attitudes are not much better,” says the Positive Women member.

Sterilisation threats and protecting children

The group’s report to the UN detailed the case of Vera, a sex worker from the Kirovograd region who underwent a caesarean section to deliver her baby.

After the procedure, the 24-year-old was told that she had been sterilised because, in the words of her doctor, she had “no right to build a family and have children”.

“Over a year and a half later, Vera is still coming to terms with what happened to her,” said the Positive Women member.

Mothers are also challenged with having to protect their children from discrimination.

Olga Rudneva, head of the Elena Pinchuk ANTIAIDS Foundation (ANTIAIDS) in Kiev, tells Al Jazeera that mothers often hide their children’s HIV status.

“If, for example, a school director finds out that a student has HIV, the child could be kicked out.

“This leaves some women in extremely poor financial situations, unable to work because they must look after their child. Women prefer to just to pay for a clean medical record to avoid such problems – you can do that in Ukraine,” she says.

Lilina, the HIV patient and domestic abuse survivor, says her daughter’s paediatrician tried to inform her school of the child’s HIV status.

With the help of ANTIAIDS, she managed to block the doctor’s attempt.

“[He] was certainly not happy when he finally agreed to keep my status confidential,” says Lilina.

Government officials failed to respond to Al Jazeera’s repeated requests for comment.

But the Ukrainian government is taking this situation “very seriously”, says UNAIDS’ Saldanha.

In 2017, the National Coordination Council on preventing HIV/AIDS in Ukraine (NCC) accepted two representatives from Positive Women to help create an HIV/AIDS strategy over the next five years.

ANTIAIDS’ Rudneva says there is more to be done, however.

“If you have HIV, you deserve HIV. That’s the mentality in this country,” she says.

The foundation gave Lilina the support to start rebuilding her life in Kiev, helping her helping her find accommodation and providing her baby with a supply of nappies.

It also encouraged her to join Kyyanka, a support group.

At first, Lilina was sceptical and it took her a while to go to a meeting.

“But now the women are like my family,” she says. “It wasn’t until I joined Kyyanka that I understood how I’d been struggling with self-stigma and repressing negative feelings about myself.

“The self-stigma is still there, but at least I’m aware of it now. It’s only when you’re aware of the stigma, that you can start to fight against it.”

Published in Al Jazeera News on February 25, 2018

Africa: Moving towards revolutionising approaches to HIV criminalisation

“We have all agreed with the Sustainable Development Goal of ending HIV and Tuberculosis by 2030. We cannot get there while we are arresting the same people we are supposed to ensure are accessing treatment and living positively,” said Dr Ruth Labode, a member of Parliament from Zimbabwe opening remarks at a two-day global meeting co-hosted by the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and HIV Justice Worldwide (HJWW) on 24 and 25 April 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa, which focused on “Revolutionising approaches to Criminalisation of HIV Non-disclosure, Exposure and Transmission”.

The meeting was attended by advocates, civil society organisations, lawyers, judges, national human rights institutions and Members of Parliament from all over Africa and with some delegates from North America. Central to these deliberations was the draconian provisions within numerous HIV-specific laws being developed as government responses to the prevention and control of the HIV epidemic. The good intentions inherent in these pieces of legislation are often marred with provisions, which criminalise people based on their HIV status. Punitive provisions relating to ‘compulsory testing’, ‘involuntary partner notification’, ‘non-disclosure’ and ‘transmission’ of HIV are often cited, fueling stigma against people living with HIV.

The common theme binding these deliberations, was the negative impact of HIV criminalisation and the stories that were shared by colleagues.  The increasing trend of imposing criminal sanctions against people living with HIV, had resulted in adverse impact on public health outcomes for certain populations, especially women. While reinforcing stigma, HIV criminalisation impedes access to sexual and reproductive health services such as condoms, HIV testing and treatment. Further, HIV criminalisation discourages HIV-positive women from accessing ante-natal care, which leads to increased maternal and child mortality. The overly broad and vague nature of most HIV specific laws, accompanied by the imposition of criminal sanctions without empirical or scientific support, further underpins the rift between public health goals and the protection of human rights.

Representing the AIDS Legal Network, one of the partners who led the development of the 10 Reasons Why Criminalisation Harms Women, Johanna Kehler mentioned the fact that, “HIV criminalisation and HIV specific laws are often set against a social milieu that is patriarchal, heteronormative and perpetuates gender inequalities and utilises punitive approaches to “correct” imbalances.” She went on to add that these laws ultimately maintain and widen the divide between public health needs and human rights obligations.

Laurel 1“Most prosecutions globally involve no or negligible risk of transmission. Among the thousands of known prosecutions, cases where it was clear, much less proven beyond reasonable doubt, that an individual planned on or wanted to infect another person with HIV, are exceedingly rare. People are being convicted of crimes contrary to the best public health advice, but also contrary to scientific and medical evidence”, said Dr Laurel Sprague of the HIV Justice Network, who has since become the Executive Director of the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+).

During the meeting, various organisations shared their experiences around litigating these matters and community advocacy mounted to reform problematic laws or specific draconian provisions. Cases from Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Niger showcased that challenges were experiences in most contexts.

The Uganda Network on Law, Ethics & HIV/AIDS (UGANET), together with other advocates and activists, continue to challenge the Ugandan law and constitutionality of the criminalisation provisions contained in the HIV Prevention and Control Act of 2014. The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) spoke to the extensive work that they furthered in Malawi, which included a focus on arbitrary arrests and dentition. Malawi has taken the centre stage where HIV criminalisation is concerned, as they are currently in the process of tabling a decade-old Draft HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Bill, which contains draconian provisions around HIV criminalisation.

Amplifying the voice of survivors of HIV criminalisation, the meeting was privileged to engage with Kerry Thomas via telephone from a state correctional facility in Boise, Idaho in the United States of America. Mr Thomas, who was prosecuted for HIV non-disclosure and the sentence that he is serving, reinforced the unjust nature of these laws. Mr Thomas is currently serving his eighth year out of a 30-year sentence for non- disclosure to his ex-partner, despite there being no proof of transmission and the fact that he had consensual and protected sex. His appeal on the unconstitutionality of Idaho’s non-disclosure law, was overturned in the District courts in 2016.

The meeting concluded with very strong calls for everyone to joining the global HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE movement and organisations committed to utilise their existing resources to galvanise advocacy focusing on ending HIV criminalisation.

Participants agreed that there was a need to focus on the inter-sectionalities within the HIV criminalisation discourse, as well as a need for coordination and collaboration amongst legislators, members of the judiciary, parliamentarians, health care workers and civil society organisations to further advocacy related to this issue.

The participants also agreed that transformative approaches to HIV criminalisation, require both legal and social reforms, such as sensitisation of community members and the media. ARASA has committed to working with colleagues in developing a timeline of key events and advocacy opportunities, at which colleagues could participate.

Revolutionising approaches to Criminalisation of HIV Non-disclosure, Exposure and Transmission was supported by a grant from the Robert Carr civil society networks Fund.

Since its inception, ARASA has played an active role in addressing HIV criminalisation in the region and globally. ARASA has strengthened the capacity of civil society on the issue and supported partners to work with the media, parliamentarians, members of the judiciary and lawyers to address HIV criminalisation.

To read more about the meeting, follow #Decrim4Health on Facebook and Twitter. You can also view a gallery of photos taken during the meeting here.