Women & HIV

The Grey Zone of Women Living With HIV

Transnationally, given the factors that substantiated the unequal status of women everywhere live through, would make them more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than men. Nevertheless, HIV/AIDS is not an overarching general (global) metaphor to which homogeneously put all women and their issues in a common bracket of reference means freeze them out from their actual settings and intersectionality which are internally differed from place to place. The issue is the same, but its manifestations and affects are multifarious through the territories which require the issue of women living with HIV should be locale specific.  

Traditionally and officially, more than 30 years of Indian experience of HIV/AIDS have followed the global paradigm and given us macro-social categories of targeted interventions with the empiricism of statistical analysis focusing on high risk and bridge population (FSW, MSM, TG, IDU, truckers and migrants). Of course, these categories are practically comfortable and conveniently effective in pinpointing what augmented well for the concerned state programmes in implementation , however, it left out, obliviously the vast majority of women living with HIV in the grey zone; being in the dark they are invisible and mute.

Myriad Faces of Positive Women

Furthermore, women living with HIV as a whole often having been considered as a priori unitary construct programmatically carved for installing on the pedestal as a static and stagnant model, however, in praxis they are an active/living subject constantly and contextually changing and differing in plurality. Within the diverse sociality of Indian context, the feminization of HIV/AIDS have involved myriad faces of positive women from all classes, caste and social stratification, and their psycho-social lived experiences and the response to the disease would vary according to the very social divisions itself. The women living with HIV are dispersed across the spectrum intermingled and at the same time detached mutually in different layers of hierarchies divided into many as poor women in urban and rural areas, lower caste women, young women, salaried women, housewives, widows, unmarried women, female commercial sex workers  and so on. The mediation and negotiation of challenges posed by HIV/AIDS and how it impacted on their living would be qualitatively different and have determined by the social hierarchy accorded with what position they stand on the social configuration.

Inside the Mainstream, Yet Behind the Curtains

The Indian government estimates that around 40% of HIV-infected individuals are women, constituting around one million of the 2.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India. And mostly the majority is in the age group of 20-30 years. As reported by the UNAIDS/WHO, Indian women are more and more at risk susceptible to HIV and a major chunk of new infections are cropping up among women, roughly 85 percent,  who are married and are infected by their husbands or primary partners, that means  sex-work is not the prime cause of 90% of new infections in Indian women. Even though this legion of HIV positive women, in large, situated inside the mainstream, they forced to hide behind the curtains because of their sero-status. Before HIV, there were conditions binding them to the boundaries- the ensuing oppressive cultural baggage (taboos) and the politics of patriarchy have already closed them off from the mainstream, socially reproductive gender-caste inequality afore have made them invisible in the margins, and the structural domestication process has made them docile bodies without self and autonomy- and henceforth, here HIV accidentally turned up for them as a triple burden. A bottom-up participatory approach specific rather than a structural umbrella implementation from above has needed for making them being visible, invoking a sense of feeling ‘normal’, and which in turn would induce her to the mainstream.  On the other hand, the characteristics of different kinds of female sex workers and their HIV risk needed a distinctive addressal system suited to the specificity of its internal formations which should involve them at all levels.

A Sense of Being ‘Normal’

There is a paucity of data about post-HIV infection about women as wives, mothers, and daughters. Apart from a chaotic marital relationship due to HIV/AIDS, they are faced with an array of new problems: childcare issues, reluctance in seeking help due to stigma, lack of proper communication, caregiver’s role, inadequate care, and the intense concern about parenting. As the experts denoted, ‘learning how to live with HIV/AIDS is a process comprising the following elements: receiving the news, accessing care, starting treatment, navigating disclosure decisions, negotiating stigma, and maintaining stability.’ The importance of quality life among women living with HIV is concurrently related to what social support they could get on in a tangible form. As experiences have shown, a supportive group environment is crucial in keeping their mental and physical health being intact with a positive high energy level. Nowadays community care becomes the password for secondary and tertiary care; here family care and using formal and informal networks are pivotal in Indian context. Promote and protect the human rights of women and girls and empowering them with awareness and knowledge would make them self-confident enough to confront the social, sexual and gender norms that make them vulnerable to HIV. Moreover, for halting the spillover of HIV/AIDS farther amongst women, actualizing women’s sexual and physical safety and stop violence against women is much more important than biomedical interventions.


Within the discourse of positive living a lot more to do in everyday life… taking vitamins, healthy diet, sleeping well, preventive actions, adhering treatment, managing stress, exercising well, and step out on the pulse of the day breaking for you, is filled up with promises, and miles to go…