Women Lawyers Association (WLA) has developed a gender analysis to shine a light on the harmful implications of some of the provisions in the HIV and Aids Prevention and Management Bill of 2017 currently being tabled in parliament.
The women lawyers note that in its current format, the Bill is paternalistic, positing women as both victims and vectors of HIV.
“In reality, women living with HIV rarely describe themselves as ‘victims’ when relaying how they became infected, and the language of vectors is especially harmful for those most marginalised members of society such as female sex workers,” says the association’s president, Sarai Chisala-Tempelhoff.
She adds: “The HIV Bill both demonises and infantilises women, they are painted as carriers of the disease but also as potentially careless and callous mothers; and women of loose morals. This in a country where more than half of the women are married before the age of 18, and it is within these relationships [oftentimes violent relationships and a product of harmful cultural practices] that they either become infected or learn of their infection.”
She further notes that if it becomes law in its current form, the Bill risks destroying many of the gains that the country has made in handling HIV by creating criminals out of those most vulnerable to HIV and Aids.
Among other recommendations, WLA proposes that article 18(2)(b) which requires compulsory testing of pregnant women and their sexual partners and Article 27(b) which allows for pre-recruitment testing of domestic workers, to be removed.
“The intimate and unique role that domestic workers play in a home has been used as justification for their inclusion for pre-recruitment HIV testing, and alleged sexual abuse of children [by domestic workers] as further justification. This was something in the minds of the drafters and the public queried during the consultative process almost a decade ago!
“The other underlying fear was that a female domestic worker living with HIV would potentially have sex [be sexually assaulted] by the man of the house and thereby bring HIV into the family home. Why must we legislate to protect women from philandering husbands in a way that blames the “other woman” and legitimises the sexual assault or sexual harassment of a domestic worker who is in a desperately unequal power relationship with their employer?” she questions.
WLA was established to promote and protect the rights of women and children through legal services, advocacy and research, and the association has always been an avid advocate and champion of the rights of women, girls and the most vulnerable members in society.
With a representation of women lawyers from the public sector, private practice, law students, paralegals and lay magistrates among others, the women’s legal practitioners’ association also uses the law to empower women, including young women, to push for equal integration of women in the profession.
“This entails organising training opportunities and continuing legal education for our members, leadership trainings and legal trainings so that members have access to the social tools that are necessary for women working in such demanding and high-powered careers. We boast of a number of influential women in Malawi as members, including women who own their own law firms. There is so much to learn from each other even within our legal sorority,” she says.
WLA of Malawi was formally launched in 1998, has been operational since 1993 under the umbrella of the Malawi Law Society (MLS) as a permanent Committee on Women and Children’s Affairs. WLA has since de-linked from the MLS in order to focus on its objectives. The association exists in four chapters, Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba.