By Waheedah Shabazz-El, PWN-USA Board Member and woman openly living with HIV
One cannot deny the devastating impact of physical bruising, scarring, mutilation or death of women and girls due to violence because these unsightly images represent some of the more obvious consequences to brutality and violence.
I could end this article here and many of you would agree that brutality against women and girls is bad and unacceptable. The 16 Days of activism against gender violence – a global mobilization and solidarity campaign demonstrates our resolution to create tools and increase advocacy towards governments to implement promises made to eliminate all forms of violence against women. Our goal is to establish real peace in the “Home and in the World.”
However, all violence against women and girls is not as obvious as the shiner under her lovely eyes or the hand prints embedded in the tender flesh of her throat. Some other forms of violence against women are much more understated and subtle.
When it comes to sexual rights, birthing and reproductive health rights for women and girls, many of us encounter systems that seem to customize barriers to claiming and embracing our birthrights as human creatures with souls, values and aspirations. However, women’s bodies are gregariously used as political footballs to win or lose campaigns.
And if you happen to be a woman living with HIV, the ugly face of discrimination undoubtedly takes violation of sexual, birthing and reproductive health rights to an entirely different level of inequality. For years the HIV community has been calling for government led anti-stigma campaigns. In the US, there has been an upsurge in suppression of rights of people living with HIV to enjoy full and satisfying sexual lives by creating state by state laws that criminalizes HIV sexuality and non-disclosure…. without the presence of HIV transmission.
For women and girls living with HIV these laws are enhanced if you are found to be pregnant and they tend to work against you in child custody battles. In some criminal cases, women living with HIV have been made to sign a clause that orders them “not to become pregnant as a part of their parole stipulation.”
So during our 16 day campaign to eliminate all violence against women and girls – in order to establish “peace in the home and in the world” can we strategize ways to establish peace in the courts as well? Because HIV is not a crime, it’s a medical condition.
And how about peace in healthcare settings, where women living with HIV of all ages are realizing that their reproductive health is not integrated with their primary health care? As if women with HIV have no need for healthy options for conception, birth coaches, breast feeding options or counseling for pregnancy loss, whether the loss is through miscarriage or abortion. Peace in health care settings where HIV-positive women are provided comprehensive information and access to PreP, which can reduce the risk of HIV transmission to their sexual partners.
We cannot deny that HIV travels the well-worn path of gender inequality. Calling for the elimination of ALL violence against women and girls must be inclusive of the rights of all women in all our diversities, genders and sexual expressions. Establishing a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women means denouncing even the subtle acts of violence. This includes methods that invisibilize us like categorizing transgender women as men who have sex with men, not taking into account the intersection of violence, trauma and HIV acquisition and criminalizing romance for women living with HIV. We must approach violence against women and people living with HIV as multi-level and multi-faceted. This is the only way we can stop it.
As a woman living with HIV I stand in solidarity with other women around the world to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights imperative at the local, national, regional and international levels.
From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World to Peace in the Courts to Peace in our Medical Settings, Let’s Challenge all forms of inequality and continue to create tools to pressure all our respective governments to implement promises made to eliminate all acts violence against All Women and Girls.
One way to begin in the US is by pressuring our government to go forward with ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec 18, 1979. The U.S. is one of seven countries (along with Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga) that has not signed CEDAW. Why do we, in 2013, not support it???!