2007 Malawi

The Feminization of HIV/AIDS


In 2007, the Crowley Program traveled to Malawi to document the impact of stigma and discrimination on the lives of women living with HIV/AIDS (WLWHA) in Malawi. The report, titled “We Will Still Live: Confronting Stigma and Discrimination Against Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi,” culminates a year-long project undertaken by the Leitner Center.

Women comprise 58% of those infected with HIV/AIDS in Malawi. While in Malawi, the Leitner delegation (consisting of four Fordham Law professors and eight Fordham Law students) interviewed over 300 women living with HIV/AIDS in rural and urban areas of Malawi’s Northern, Central, and Southern regions and documented widespread community-level stigma and HIV/AIDS-related discrimination. The delegation also interviewed men living with HIV/AIDS, traditional leaders, men and women in rural villages, commercial sex workers, police officers, secondary school students, peer educators, lawyers, government officials, health workers, and NGO and United Nations representatives. The delegation conducted approximately 500 interviews in all.

Part I of the report sets out Malawi’s obligations under international and domestic law regarding the right of women living with HIV/AIDS to be free from discrimination and also explores non-binding international documents that provide guidance to governments in confronting discrimination against PLWHA. Part I then explores the ways in which lack of sexual autonomy, economic dependency, physical and sexual abuse, harmful traditional practices, commercial sex work, sexual exploitation of girls and young women, and conceptions of male sexuality increase women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in Malawi.

Part II documents widespread community-level stigma against women living with HIV/AIDS in the form of verbal attacks; social exclusion; and the interpretation of HIV status as an indicator of sexual immorality. Part II also explores how fear of stigma discourages women from disclosing their HIV status and how denial of HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination further handicaps communities. Part II then documents the ways in which discriminatory notions regarding HIV-positive peoples’ labor capacities limits the participation of WLWHA in the federal fertilizer subsidy program, public works projects, and microfinance programs. Part II ends by suggesting community-level interventions and policy reforms to confront stigma and discrimination.

Finally, Part III explores possible legal interventions. Part III begins by documenting women’s lack of access to justice in response to their experiences of stigma and discrimination. Part III then offers recommendations to address this lack of judicial recourse, including linking health and legal services through the establishment of referral networks in health clinics to legal aid and paralegal service providers and the integration of these services directly into the health setting; the drafting of HIV/AIDS anti-discrimination legislation coupled with awareness raising campaigns and strong enforcement mechanisms; and the encouragement of public interest litigation to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS-related issues.

Read “We Will Still Live: Confronting Stigma and Discrimination Against Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi” (PDF).

The Leitner Center’s project also resulted in a 32-min. documentary called “The Face of AIDS.” Hard copies of the report and copies of the documentary may be obtained without charge from the Leitner Center by contacting LeitnerCenter@law.fordham.edu. Below is a 3-minute video summary:

The Crowley Program worked in partnership with the Coalition of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (COWLHA).  The Leitner Center congratulates COWLHA  for its recognition at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, Mexico in August 2008, where COWLHA received a prestigious Red Ribbon Award. Executive Director Daphne Gondwe accepted the award on behalf of COWHLA.  Ms. Gondwe won the Leitner Center’s Human Rights Prize in 2007.

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