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Beyond Denial and Discomfort: Rights for Women with HIV

Written By: Audacia Ray
March 6, 2009

 

Among the many formal meetings at the Commission on the Status of Women that take place inside the United Nations, there are a whole bunch of side meetings. The International Women’s Health Coalition co-sponsored a panel called “Beyond Denial and Discomfort: Securing the Rights and Health of Women and Youth, including those Who Live with HIV,” along with Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), International Planned Parenthood Federation- Western Hemisphere Region, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Kimberly Whipkey, an Advocacy and Outreach Associate at CHANGE, blogged about the panel on Open Democracy, and had these thoughts:

Esther Sheehama, a young woman from Namibia, spoke courageously about living with HIV and the pain of discovering she had been sterilized without knowing, “It’s not easy growing up as a young, HIV-positive woman. There is so much stigma, discrimination and name-calling. They call me ‘AIDS-face.’” During a family planning visit several years after giving birth, Esther found out she had been sterilized after delivery: “My right to motherhood was violated. It’s very painful knowing that I cannot carry a child for my future husband.”

Another haunting story was shared by Vasili Deliyanis, director of Vivo Positivo in Chile. He spoke of a Chilean HIV-positive woman who was also sterilized without her knowledge or authorization. Francisca (not her real name) tested positive while pregnant and received scant information or counseling about her health. The state hospital where she gave birth performed a tubal litigation after her caesarean delivery, without discussing the possibility of a surgical sterilization or asking for her consent.

Both Esther and Vasili spoke to a persistent attitude among some health professionals that HIV-positive women should not have sex or children because “having sex endangers the health of their male partners” or “having children is irresponsible because they will get HIV or the mother will die.”

Yet, we know that positive women can and do lead fulfilling, safe and pleasurable sex lives. And women living with HIV who have access to prevention of mother-to-child transmission services like ARVs can give birth to healthy infants. Increased access to treatment has allowed women and men to live long and satisfying lives.

Read the rest of Kimberly’s post here.

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