If I knew what would happen I would have kept it to myself...
Gender Violence and HIV: Perceptions and experiences of violence and other rights abuses against women living with HIV in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape, South Africa A study conducted in 2012 by the AIDS Legal Network (ALN) and partners (Her Rights Initiative, South African Positive Women Ambassadors, SA Partners and the Mitchell’s Plain Network Opposing Abuse) clearly highlights the various forms and prevalence of violence against women living with HIV, and illustrates the multiple risks associated with women’s HIV status disclosure. Women’s experiences of HIV disclosure undoubtedly give evidence to the multiple forms and the continuum of violence in all aspects of their lives, perpetrated by partners, families, friends, communities and service providers alike. ‘I must not be seen as a woman who is HIV positive, but as a woman who is a human being.’ In summary, the data clearly highlights the need to design and implement programmes and initiatives that are based on and informed by women’s experiences of the multiple causes, forms, and effects of HIV-related violence in their lives, so as to ensure effective responses to the realities, risks, and needs of women living with HIV. Moreover, the study reveals the urgency to redesign service provision, as women participating in the study experience access to healthcare as an element in the continuum of violence perpetrated against them. Recognising the various risks associated with women’s HIV disclosure, the data seems to raise the question as to the potential role that societal expectations of, and pressures on, women to disclose their HIV status play in the continuum of abuse and violence women experience in all aspects of their lives, irrespective of whether or not women themselves decided the time of and the way in which their HIV status became known. Communities’ responses reveal a certain degree of awareness and understanding of risks associated with women’s HIV status disclosure within families and households, at a community level, within healthcare provision and within the workplace. Although aware of the risks, communities feel strongly that women need to disclose their HIV positive status, which arguably indicates a great disconnect between beliefs that women’s HIV disclosure is essential and the awareness and knowledge of the risks for women who do disclose their HIV status. It appears then that for communities, women’s HIV disclosure takes priority over women’s safety; as communities’ ‘need to know’ women’s HIV status seems to override the knowledge of women’s risks of violence and abuse associated with their HIV positive status becoming known.

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Last Updated: 1/10/2015