It is 8:45 on a Sunday morning and I am sitting in a session room. The theme of the session is ‘Gender Gaps Stigma and Sex’. Sunday mornings don’t get much better then this, right?!
Sophie, Rebecca and I have just arrived yesterday, but we are wasting no time. The conference has not even started yet, but our Rebecca has her first presentation at an International AIDS Conference, so obviously Sophie and I want to be there to support her. It is a great session that highlights the progress of the Stigma Index around the world. In a nutshell the Stigma Index is a global participatory research by and for HIV+ people to measure levels of stigma. This session focuses on how stigma manifests itself in the lives of women in different countries.
It was clear from all the presentations that stigma affects women very heavily in the domestic domain and that it is strictly linked to gender violence. Now that I read my notes some of the statistics give me goosebumps.In Dominica Republic 34% of women has been shoved or pushed by their partners in the last 12 months and 11% has been attacked with a knife, a gun or another weapon.
But stigma doesn’t just express itself as violence in intimate relationships. It is chilling, but it is reported that health providers, and especially family planning clinics, are the ones who proactively discriminate against HIV+ women. In the Dominica Republic 30% of women were advised to be sterilized after testing ( but only 17% of men). What is more horrific is that one of the condtions of provision of ARV’s for women was sterilization. This was reported by 21% of the women interviewed. The picture portrayed by the speaker from Bangladesh wasn’t much different. Shockingly 84% of those interviewed reported that they had taken the decision of not having children. We still do not have the results of Stigma Index research in high prevalence countries like Zimbabwe or South Africa, but they will probably add more lights on the links between HIV related stigma, gender violence and obstacles to access safe sexual health and reproductive services for women with HIV.
Finished this session we jumped in a taxi to take part in a satellite session on “Criminalization of HIV exposure and transmission: global extent, impact and way forward’. How is that for a Sunday lunch?
This was another heavy session featuring speakers from the UK, South Africa, Canada and UN. It was really valuable because it alerted me to the GNP+ Global Criminalization Scan which is attempting to report all the cases where PLHIV are prosecuted for criminal exposure and transmission in the world. Up to now 600 prosecutions have been reported, but this probably is an underestimated. What is really scary is that in the past 10 years more then 20 countries have introduced new laws to prosecute HIV transmission. Another important resource that was shared in this session was the booklet 10 Reasons Why Criminalization Harms Women, by the Athena Network. There would be a lot more to say about this session, but I am running out of time and I need to go to the conference opening session. If you are interested in the theme of criminalization please refer also to Edwin Bernard excellent blog Criminal HIV Transmission.
By for now…! Hey, here is a picture of me before entering the conference centre this morning. I should probably take another one at the end of the conference, kind of before and after…Hopefully I will be able to pace myself and it will not look too bad!