South Africa: Women still carry burden of stigma

11 June 2015
An HIV-positive woman in South Africa

South Africa has undertaken the largest ever national stigma survey involving 10,500 people living with HIV. The Stigma Index Survey revealed that although South Africa has much lower levels of HIV stigma than other African countries, women continue to be disproportionately affected, particularly in relation to sexual and reproductive health.

A shocking 7% of female survey respondents had been sterilised against their will. Forced sterilisation of women living with HIV is a practice aimed at stopping their ability to reproduce. This completely violates their human rights and their right to access impartial sexual and reproductive health services.

Around 40% of women also reported that using a form of contraception was a pre-requisite to access their antiretroviral drugs. Women living with HIV need to be given advice about contraception and have the right to choose what is right for them, but it should certainly not be a requirement of treatment access.

Stigmatising behaviour among health professionals and communities alike perpetuates the HIV epidemic. Women living with HIV are particularly vulnerable and should be supported to make decisions about their health.

Photo credit:
©AVERT/ Benjamin Kriel. Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply any health status or behaviour on the part of the people in the photo.