Blog: Mindy Jane Roseman

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July 26, 2012

Namibian Women Living with HIV Report Violations of Sexual and Reproductive Rights


26 July 2012, Washington DC — Despite repeated calls for reform, the Government of Namibia’s inaction raises serious concerns about violations of the sexual and reproductive rights of women living with HIV, according to a report released today at the International AIDS Conference by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, the Namibian Women’s Health Network, and Northeastern Law School.  The 49-page report, entitled “In the Hospital There Are No Human Rights,” examines discrimination and neglect that women living with HIV are subjected to in the public health care system.

“We often assume that hospitals are healing places, where people living with HIV receive medical services in a safe facility, from trustworthy health practitioners,” Aziza Ahmed, an assistant professor at Northeastern Law School said.  “While this can be the case, women living with HIV in Namibia often report serious mistreatment in hospital settings.”

A poster for an event depicts a woman holding a tank top that says "non-negotiable: my body, my womb, my rights."

In the report, based on interviews conducted in Namibia in 2010, women describe being unable to give their informed consent (or make an informed refusal) to medical treatment either because information was withheld, or categorically denied to them.  Time and again, they said, their HIV status exposed them to mistreatment and discrimination.

“No one wanted to touch me,” said one woman, describing her birthing experience at the hospital.

Equally alarming, women interviewed for the report described experiencing forced or coerced sterilization.  The majority of reported cases involved the failure of medical personnel to provide women living with HIV with a description of the nature of the sterilization procedure, as well as its effects, consequences, and risks.  In some cases, medical professionals obtained consent under duress or based on misinformation, and demanded consent to sterilization in order for female patients to access other necessary services—including abortion and child delivery.  In other cases, medical professionals demanded or obtained consent for sterilization without providing information about other contraceptive options.

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