52% of women from the EECA region experienced physical abuse after being diagnosed with HIV. These data were presented as part of a 2019 study of the issue of violence against women living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by the Eurasian Women's Network on AIDS. Women usually find out about their status earlier, which increases their risks for violence in their immediate surrounding, but also women are disproportionately more likely to be prosecuted because of their status.
This and other topics were discussed at the conference on empowering women living with HIV in Eastern Europe, which was held in Minsk, Belarus in November. The conference was organized by Deutsche Aidshilfe with the support of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
More than 120 participants from 8 countries of the region gathered to discuss the active role of women in the response to HIV, support and inspire each other.
The greater vulnerability of women, directly related to gender inequality, has an impact on their vulnerability to HIV, which increases even more if women are part of other key populations - people who use drugs or sex workers. To this one can also add lower access to services, or the fact that existing HIV prevention services do not adequately include women's needs.
At the same time, the need forms a response, the participants presented activities and projects that focus on the specific needs of women living with HIV - from support groups to work in the framework of re-socialization and support for women in prison.
A separate important topic in the region is the criminalization of HIV - transmission, non-disclosure or exposure. Criminalization particularly affects women, since, as mentioned above, women usually find out about their status earlier, must declare it and take responsibility for risk in sexual relations, which leads to an increase in the risk of violence against them. Women are more often accused of “bringing HIV into the house” than men, which can lead to the loss of home and property, exile from the family home and loss of custody of children. Another separate issue is the possibility of prosecution of mother-to-child transmission of the virus, especially in the absence of access to family planning tools and HIV therapy.
In addition, prosecution of sex workers and women who use drugs is widespread in the region. Women who use drugs are subject to cross-discrimination from society for drug related stigma and sexism, thus women are subjected to multiple stigma. In many countries of the region, women who are part of key populations fall under the intersection of discrimination not only in society, but also within the communities of key populations.
However, active work also has its positive achievements, as a result of a lengthy advocacy of civil society in 2019, article 157 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus received the addition that criminal liability is removed if a person living with HIV has declared their status and received consent from their sexual partner.