n African Human Rights Law Journal - HIV is not for me : a study of African women who have sex with women's perceptions of HIV/AIDS and sexual health : focus : sexual and reproductive health rights and the African Women's Protocol

Volume 14, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



Women who have sex with women face a unique, yet under-researched set of HIV/AIDS-related risks in sub-Saharan Africa. The findings of this study highlights a tension that, on the one hand, exists between the heteronormativity of healthcare providers and broader society, and the ways in which this silences lesbians and other women who have sex with women in their healthcare interactions and, on the other, the totalising view of WSW sexualities within this community, which silences conversations about HIV because such conversations may expose or accuse a person of 'not being a real lesbian'. The women within the African lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community who participated in our study had scant access to credible HIV/AIDS and safe-sex information, resulting in various and dangerous (mis)conceptions proliferating. The vulnerability of lesbians and other WSW to HIV infection is a complicated public health issue that is perplexing to some and ignored by many, not only on the African continent, but globally. Our research indicates that some WSW engage in high-risk behaviour that places them at an increased risk for HIV transmission. Furthermore, a lack of access to inclusive prevention and healthcare services and an unwillingness to seek treatment are often the consequence of stigma and discrimination and point to distinct inequalities for female-identified LGBTI persons. The study explored the prevailing perceptions of women within the LGBTI community on HIV/AIDS, using various fora, including social media sites, anonymous surveys and anecdotes shared anonymously with the organisation, and which highlights the urgent need for specifically-tailored sexual health and HIV-preventative and coping strategies toward improved health outcomes and an understanding of this vulnerable group. In addition, the experience of our participants demonstrated a strong demand for LGBTI health needs training for healthcare professionals, with a specific focus on the depathologisation of LGBTI identities on the continent. Potential strategies and further research in this community are suggested.

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