Being a woman and having hiv looks like an important challenge in countries where violence, lack of information, discrimination and male chauvinism become the enemy that women with hiv must face every day.
“When you find out you have hiv your world crumbles and it seems that all your dreams will remain just dreams; you never think it’s possible to go on”, commented Laura, a 42 year-old woman with hiv.
In Bolivia, according to the National Progress Report on the Response to hiv, for every 17 men with hiv, there are 10 women with the same diagnosis. The main route of transmission is sexual intercourse which corresponds to over 90% of the cases, other 3% is related to mother-to-child transmission, while 1% belongs to blood transmission.
There is a strong link between hiv and gender-based violence. A woman with hiv is generally in a violent situation because of the actions of her partner, her family and society and she also has to deal with a moral burden.
According to Irina Mendes, a sociologist, people think marriage grants immunity to women, “we keep having the misconception that a married woman is free of sin; once she gets married she gets financial and social support and these “protect” her, but the true story is completely different. If they were “protected” we wouldn’t be facing such high rates of femicide which are mostly committed by their partners and we wouldn’t be witnessing an increase in the number of housewives with hiv.”
“Male chauvinism exacerbates the increased number of women with hiv. A woman who has very basic information will have fewer possibilities to get protection from the virus; it is less likely that she will negotiate safe-sex practices with her partner or husband due to fear of facing criticism or physical violence. There are many women who know about their husbands’ infidelities and still restrain themselves from negotiating the use of condoms during sexual practices”, commented Mendes.
In our countries, where male chauvinism is widely spread, there is a long way to go if we want to analyze and work with hiv from a gender-oriented point of view. It is mandatory to pay attention to the economic inequalities between men and women, violence against women and how vulnerable they are to hiv.