Around the world, HIV-positive women experience a range of human rights violations — including at the intersection of HIV and reproductive rights. More and more, these women face legal sanctions as a growing number of countries introduce legislation that would criminalize HIV transmission and exposure.
On World AIDS Day, the Center is pleased to endorse 10 Reasons Why Criminalization of HIV Exposure or Transmission Harms Women, a new ATHENA Network publication which clearly illustrates how criminalizing HIV exposure or transmission — far from providing justice for women — endangers and further oppresses them.
Recently, at least 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone have passed legislation with clauses ranging from mandatory HIV testing and partner disclosure, to criminalization of exposure or transmission of HIV. Similar laws have been enacted, or are pending, in parts of Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
While a call to apply criminal law to HIV exposure and transmission is often driven by a well-intentioned desire to protect women, it does nothing to address the economic, social, and political inequalities — including gender-based violence — that are at the root of women’s and girls’ disproportionate vulnerability to HIV. These provisions can exacerbate the discrimination and mistreatment HIV-positive women already encounter in healthcare facilities, including mandatory testing, delays and denials of care, and coercive family planning and sterilization practices. In many countries, criminalization of HIV transmission only provides another tool for attacking and punishing HIV-positive women.
Laws that criminalize HIV exposure and transmission or require mandatory testing and disclosure of status violate women’s core human rights. Additionally, they strip women of their autonomy, potentially expose them to violence at the hands of intimate partners or family members, and can undermine public health efforts on HIV and maternal health by discouraging women from seeking healthcare services.
In commemoration of World AIDS Day the Center for Reproductive Rights urges governments around the world to develop a response to HIV/AIDS that is grounded in the protection of women’s human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.