Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bringing a Human Rights Approach to Those Living with HIV

On February 28 and March 1 HIV attorneys, activists and researchers gathered in Atlanta for the biannual HIV conference sponsored by the ABA’s Aids Coordinating Committee.  With 55% of women living with HIV reporting that they experienced intimate partner abuse and with women experiencing a high rate of HIV infection, this year’s conference focused on Women and HIV. This theme has been the focus of committee Chair Dawn Siler Nixon’s tenure.   Since the last conference there has been more attention paid to girls and women living with HIV and their particular difficulties.  In September, 2013, the Interagency Federal Working Group issued its report addressing the intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence against Women and Girls & Gender-Related Health Disparities.   Among the disparities reported is the “higher rate of women, compared to men, of reporting subsequent impacts of violence on their lives, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, injury, need for healthcare, and need for housing services.   One of the recommendations of the Working Group is for for a coordinated response between those who serve domestic violence survivors and those providing healthcare and other services to women living with HIV. A particular need for housing exists among both HIV positive women and domestic violence survivors.

A second and comprehensive report by the Positive Women’s Network  issued in November, 2013.  Unspoken: Sexuality, Romance, and Reproductive Freedom for Women Living with HIV in the United States.  The report covers what for many is new territory.  For example, when addressing reproductive freedom, the discussion is not simply on lack of availability or political underpinnings of choice, the report addresses sexual and emotional satisfaction in relationships.  In addition, the report discusses sexual and reproductive health for women living with HIV, the current epidemic among women as well as research results and the policy and legal environment for women living with HIV.  The report is rich in information and background research. 

One link between the conference and the PWN report is an emphasis on the  human rights of those living with HIV.  As the Positive Women’s report notes, US laws and policy “create a hostile environment for women living with HIV and have focused on preventing transmission at the expense of abridging the rights of women living with HIV to fulfill their sexual and reproductive rights.” In discussing these rights the report notes the relevance of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),   the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  I suggest that the foundational Universal Declaration of Human Rights  be considered and used as a tool for advancing the lives of women living with HIV and  with the co-occurrence of intimate partner abuse.  The goal of the human rights approach in addressing HIV and Domestic Violence is to restore dignity to those living with HIV.  Much more will be written on this topic in future blogs as the implementation of a Human Rights approach when working with individuals living with HIV is rich and varied, as documented in the Positive Women’s Network report.



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