Three stories about women and HIV

Three items about women and HIV got me thinking this week. Indian researcher

The first piece poses a compelling question: “Does New HIV-Prevention Technology Empower or Burden Women?” HIV policy consultant San Patten looks at the push to develop women-controlled prevention tools and wonders whether these will be put “in women’s hands” or “on women’s shoulders.” Will these technologies make women alone responsible for sexual health? Will they increase the medical establishment’s control of women’s bodies? Will women be able to use them safely (or at all) given power inequities in relationships? “We know that technological tools cannot replace women’s empowerment” and “would be part of a prevention spectrum,” concludes Patten.

In the second piece, “Women Living With HIV Aim to Break the Glass Ceiling,” researcher Allison Carter examines positive women’s involvement in HIV organizations. She describes the value that women with HIV derive from providing support services to peers, as well as the barriers they face in trying to gain employment doing such work. Organizational policies against hiring service users mean that women must decide whether to give up their use of services in order to join the staff—often they choose to volunteer. Women also feel frustrated by the lack of meaningful work offered to them and their “unequal representation throughout levels of decision-making.” Recommendations include “ending employment discrimination against an agency’s own clientele and advocating for equal pay for equal work without discrimination by gender, HIV status, or other forms of social difference.”

The third item involves an HIV non-disclosure trial, apparently the first in Manitoba to involve an accused woman. According to a Winnipeg Free Press article, there is no suggestion that sex between the woman and a man was anything but consensual, yet because she has HIV and allegedly did not disclose her status before sex, she has been charged with aggravated sexual assault. In an interesting bit of dialogue quoted from the trial, the defence lawyer suggested that the man “knew there was a risk of contracting HIV by having sex” with the woman, to which the man replied, “No I did not.” But there is always that risk when it comes to sex, regardless of whether the people involved recognize it.

These three stories have reminded me of the different ways that gender inequities play out for women and the complicating intersection of HIV. There are no quick fixes for these issues. What we need to see are serious movies towards gender equity and an end to HIV stigma.