Battered, dejected, ejected and rejected: the rights of HIV positive women to be protected from violence in Eswatini.
Mavundla, Simangele Daisy.
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Eswatini has, as of 2018, the highest prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the world. The prevalence has continued to rise, climbing from 21 per cent of the population in 2016 to over 27 per cent in 2018. Violence against women (VAW) is also on the increase, attributed to the prevalence of gender inequality in the country. Research has shown a viable link between HIV and VAW. This is because women are most often powerless and have no voice, agency or control over their lives and bodies. Due to gender inequality, women may be unable to negotiate condom use with their husbands or partners. Women's refusal of males' sexual advances often leads to their violation, underscoring the link between VAW and HIV and AIDS. However, in Eswatini, the implications of this link have not been adequately investigated; hence, the need to investigate women's experiences of VAW to find out how well the legal and policy frameworks of Eswatini respond to VAW. The study answers the following essential questions: What are the experiences of women living with HIV (WLH) regarding violence? Is the Eswatini legal and policy framework cognisant of the nexus between VAW and HIV? How does the legal framework protect HIV positive women from VAW and its consequences in light of international law? This study found that violence against HIV positive women was multifaceted and involved a wide range of perpetrators. As such, WLH experienced many forms of violence, including stigma and discrimination. Perpetrators of violence against WLH originated from the home front – (private sphere) and then were found in the public sphere. Intimate partners, and family members, as well as community members and healthcare workers, were implicated in violating WLH in one way or another. The findings of this study confirmed that violence and HIV were inextricably interconnected at many levels and that legal remedies were inadequate, to the extent that women did not generally rely on them. Some of the inadequacies included the fact that the laws on marital and cohabiting relationships offered little protection in conflict with the provision in the Constitution provides that 'women have the right to equal treatment with men'. This study argues that Eswatini's social context provides fertile ground for HIV and VAW and their interaction to thrive. It further contends that violence against WLH is a public health concern requiring a public health response. It concludes that violence against WLH is indeed a human rights violation, which requires a human rights response.