Cherie Booth: Empower people, don't punish them

Share
Related Topics

HIV is no longer a death sentence and yet, for so many of those living in poorer countries, it continues to destroy lives and kill people in their prime, particularly young girls and women.

The virus doesn't exist in isolation – it is exacerbated by individual circumstances and social conditions. Women are particularly at risk because in many places around the world they lack the information or skills they need to protect themselves both within society and in their personal relationships.

The result is that women are less able to insist on fidelity from their partners, and less able to practise safe sex. It is no wonder that Aids is today the leading cause of death globally among women of reproductive age.

There are two overlooked factors that we need to address to change this situation. We in the legal profession need to be aware of how legislation and law enforcement practices really affect women, particularly in areas related to protection from violence, family law, property and inheritance.

This week I chaired the first Commonwealth HIV and Human Rights lecture in which the focus was on how punitive laws increase the vulnerability to Aids of women and other marginalised groups, such as gay men, sex workers and drug users who inject.

We know that where there are laws protecting human rights, women and others living with HIV are better able to gain access to prevention, treatment, care and support programmes without fear of arrest or prosecution. Protecting public health and promoting human rights are mutually reinforcing strategies.

Working on the frontline, the International HIV/Aids Alliance is well aware of how increasingly the too-blunt tool of criminal law is used to penalise HIV exposure and transmission, and leads to women being prosecuted simply because they know they are infected with HIV. Of course it's wrong not to disclose your HIV status to a partner, but if this is to change, it's essential to take account of the social and cultural factors that stop women from disclosing their status to their partner. Women who have no income often fear violence and abandonment if they openly address their infection.

Where women have few options, prosecution is a crude punishment. It merely feeds stigma, rather than providing protection. Women can find themselves blamed unfairly for bringing the disease into the home, but because they have more contact with the health system through pregnancy and childbirth, they are more likely to know their HIV status than their male partners, and so are more likely to face prosecution. Prosecution can result not only in imprisonment, but eviction, loss of property and inheritance as well.

But whether it's the man or the woman who is responsible for transmission, there's no doubt it is women who hold the key to bringing HIV and Aids under control. That means enabling both sexes to protect themselves from infection and to access their legal, human and economic rights.

This is why it is vital to provide opportunities for women to gain financial independence, to start a business, for example, so they can support themselves and their children. It is through economic empowerment that women can avoid the cycle of financial dependence that inhibits them from either protecting themselves from HIV or from addressing their infection. Earning money increases a woman's social status and gives her a more influential voice both in the community and in wider society. The financial empowerment of women must go hand in hand with the development of laws and policies that reduces their vulnerability to HIV without fear of discrimination or adverse legal consequences.

Cherie Booth QC sits as a part-time judge, and campaigns on human rights issues

Click here to donate to HIV/Aids charity EJAF

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk