During the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, all that was written and discussed about AIDS and its implications was drawn from the experiences of men who had sex with men. More recently, several books highlighting the issues for women have been published, (e.g. Richardson 1988, Rieder and Ruppelt 1989) and conferences around the topic of Women and AIDS have been organised. However, there has been very little analysis of the experience of women who are antibody positive or who have AIDS and there is still only a small voice heard from those women who are most profoundly affected by the virus.
As with so many other societal issues, we are in danger of extrapolating from the male situation to the female, and this is neither tenable nor indeed possible. Women’s access to health care, the support systems available to them, their ability to make changes in their sex lives and their reactions to physical decline and disfigurement, are likely to be different from men’s.
Social implications of HIV for women cannot be examined in isolation from the position of women in society. For so many women who are infected and affected, their position is characterised by financial and emotional dependence, which is reinforced by the legal system, the health care system and social services.
It is important to remember that in our society the adult who is powerless and dependent is regarded as having brought it upon her or himself. In the HIV/AIDS situation this is of crucial importance. It is therefore essential that those most closely involved are empowered to speak out and explain their own situations. Feelings of impotence and powerlessness must be dispelled by advocacy groups joining with and standing alongside HIV positive women, not speaking for them, but with them, so that their voices are heard more loudly.
When information about AIDS first became available, certain types of behaviour were identified as being risky, and the sexual partners of those indulging in that risky behaviour were seen to be at risk of infection with