Women and the criminalization of HIV – An ethnographic investigation of gendered power relations, violence and access to health care

Women living with HIV/AIDS (WLWH) have been identified as a key population of interest by the Federal Initiative to address HIV/AIDS in Canada. An October 2012 ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the criminalization of HIV nondisclosure except where both a condom is used and the person has a 'low' HIV viral load. The decision has drawn criticism as being 'gender-blind' for failing to consider the gender imbalance in negotiation of male condom use and in associated risks for violence and livelihood.

Given the prevalence of gender-based violence and ongoing HIV-related stigma, there is a need to better understand how the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure uniquely affects WLWH.

The central objectives of the proposed study are to investigate how the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure shapes: 

  1. The gendered power dynamics of negotiating HIV disclosure, safer sex practices, and violence among WLWH
  2. HIV-related stigma and access to HIV treatment and care among WLWH

To do this, we will observe participants (e.g. in health care settings) and conduct in-depth individual interviews with WLWH, legal advisors, and health and social service providers.

There is potential to translate the findings of this research into evidence-based HIV policy that better considers gendered power dynamics and HIV-related stigma.