The Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) joins millions of activists and partner organizations around the world in commemorating World AIDS Day, December 1, 2017. On this day, WGNRR calls for global attention to the unmet full realization of the right to health for all people living with HIV. Specifically, WGNRR calls for the respect, protection and fulfillment of the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of all women and girls living with HIV, and for an end to all forms of violence against them.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic and often doubly marginalized within their societies due to their gender and HIV status. Today there are 6.6 million women living with HIV in developing regions of the world and 1 in 3 have an unmet need for treatment and healthcare (1).
While women and girls worldwide face a myriad of barriers in exercising autonomy and meaningful decision-making power over their sexual and reproductive health, women and girls living with HIV face exacerbated challenges in exercising their SRHR. When attempting to access sexual and reproductive health information and services, they are often at high risk of experiencing violations of their sexual and reproductive rights (2), such as discriminatory and humiliating treatment; breaches of consent and confidentiality; physical and emotional violence and abuse; and denial of services (3). Deplorably, women and girls living with HIV also continue to be at risk of subjection to forms of institutional violence, such as forced and coerced sterilizations and abortions (4).
The magnitude of these human rights violations are extreme, unacceptable and irreversible and are considered as cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment under various human rights treaties (5). Additionally, the unlawful act of forced and coerced sterilization and abortion detracts from years of progress made in providing women and girls living with HIV the healthcare they need. They are instead discouraged from seeking diagnosis and treatment out of fear for their privacy and of experiencing these horrific repercussions (6).
Although there has been some progress in global efforts to achieve recognition and justice for women who underwent forced or coerced sterilizations and abortions in countries such as Namibia(7), Kenya(8) and Chile(9) among others there must be reaffirmed and collective global action to end these gross human rights violations.
On World AIDS Day 2017, and in line with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, WGNRR calls upon all national governments to uphold their commitments to end all forms of violence against women and girls living with HIV, including institutional violence in the form of violating their SRHR. Therefore, we urge all governments to undertake the following actions:
- Enact and enforce policies to end all forms of violence against women living with HIV, including forced and coerced sterilizations and abortions.
- Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services including all forms of contraceptives, as well as access to safe, legal and affordable abortion services.
- Reaffirm the SRHR of women and girls living with HIV, including their rights to health, bodily integrity, and their ability to decide if and when they want to have children, free from coercion, discrimination and violence.
(1) Guttmacher, (2017) International HIV/STIs
(2) UNAIDS (2012), Every minute, a young woman is newly infected with HIV
(3) UNDP et. al (2013), Protecting the Rights of Key HIV-Affected Women and Girls in Healthcare Settings: A Legal Scan
(4) ICW (2015), Forced and Coerced Sterlization of Women Living with HIV
(7) UNAIDS (2014), Namibia’s Supreme Court upholds the dignity of women living with HIV
(8) NewsDeeply Women and Girls (2017) Women with HIV Take Fight Against Forced Sterilization to Court