Challenges to the Reproductive and Sexual Rights of HIV-Positive Women in Mexico

This article is part of a transcript of a presentation delivered at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria. The original session took place on July 21, 2010. Jump to the table of contents to see other articles in the series.

Gloria Careaga, Mexico
Gloria Careaga, Mexico Gloria Careaga is a social psychologist, teacher and researcher at the Faculty of Psychology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In this university she introduced the study on sexuality, human rights and society, and a broader perspective on the study of masculinities within the Latin American and Caribbean region. Read her full bio.

"Sexual rights are not an issue that we discuss enough, because of these beliefs about sexuality that are focused on reproduction," says social psychologist Gloria Careaga. She speaks about how the framing of reproduction as a necessity, and of HIV-positive status solely as the result of victimization, for women in Latin American society serves to "invisiblize" women's sexuality, and discount their sexual agency.

We have been fighting a lot for reproductive rights and it seems that, still, almost 25 years after this struggle, motherhood and having children seems to be something that most couples see as natural.

What we were fighting for at the beginning of the '90s was, specifically, the opportunity for women, especially, to be able to make the choice if they want to have children or not, with whom, when, how many. And now, it seems that that struggle that we had in the '90s has not really achieved the goals that we were looking for. Many people, in different regions and in most of the world, still relate the idea of building a project with another person to building a family with children. Reproduction is part of the natural process of a partnership, of a couple, and it isn't, necessarily.

I don't know why reproduction and having children, in the mind of the people, is part of a natural process, and that it comes together with living with somebody else -- especially for the straight couples. Same-sex couples have the chance to really think if they want to [have children]: What are the risks? What are the opportunities? What are the resources and the possibilities they have?

But being straight is related to reproduction. And I think that, in many cases, this is because of the social values -- that motherhood has been related with women's identity, and with masculinity building. In thinking about this, what happens with those women that become HIV positive? As it happens in my country, and in most of the countries in Latin America, women do not know that they are positive until they get pregnant. And because of the testing that they have to do during this period, they realize that they are positive. But this situation is not only for those women that are already over their 30s, or over their 40s. Because we know that getting HIV is a possibility for everybody, at any age.

I want to highlight some of the issues that are very confusing for HIV-positive women. Because when they realize that they are pregnant, and then that that they are positive, they have to share this situation with the family, with the partner. And mostly, the women that are in this condition are condemned. And they are condemned specifically because of sexuality practices.

As we know, HIV infection is related to sexual practice, or sexual intercourse. So many people, when they are identified as HIV positive, are condemned because people then think that they had unprotected sex, and that they are irresponsible. This situation, for these women, is very difficult because, having this perspective of being mothers as natural, at the same time, being HIV positive does not put them in a natural position. It seems that they are responsible for that situation, and that they are responsible for that child that will come.

Most people do not see this as a social situation that is the result of social values, and of the exigency of being a mother. As I said, it comes with the situation of being straight and the beliefs that surround those relationships: that they have to be monogamous, and that sex should only happen within a marriage. Many women that are HIV positive are seen as victims of their partners.

All these situations make for invisiblizing women's sexuality. We have to recognize that women's sexuality is active, that we have desire, and that we have different practices; that we are active in our sexual life, and that we have the right for that. That we are condemned for being HIV positive, or because we want to have sexual practice, is one of the problems that we have been fighting against.

I began by talking about reproductive rights, but I'm mainly speaking of sexual rights. Sexual rights are not an issue that we discuss enough, because of these beliefs about sexuality that are focused on reproduction.

I do affirm that, regarding reproductive rights, we have the right to choice, to information, to care and services, and to have enough support for the building of a new life. But I think that, when talking about the HIV situation, we also need to be very clear about the rights that we have to information, confidentiality, freedom, and care and services surrounding our sexuality.

So I think that we have to go on with the actions of linking sexual education and health, and to really look towards cultural change: mainly working on public opinions, organizing ourselves, and making alliances with other social movements -- not only related to youth, feminism or sexuality issues, but also human rights and social justice.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.