Hidden from view: HIV and women in rural South Africa

Over the past two decades the HIV epidemic has had devastating effects on the health and wellbeing of communities in South Africa. More recently, access to life-saving antiretroviral treatment and care through state and non-governmental programmes has expanded remarkably. Both the improved ability of people living with HIV to maintain their health and stronger government leadership have helped reduce social discrimination.

But challenges remain. People living in rural areas still struggle to gain access to the food and services they need to maintain their health because of poverty and because they live in remote areas. In addition, women's ability to protect their health continues to be affected by discriminatory practices, economic marginalization and violence.

Carers in these communities, some of whom are also directly affected by HIV, provide the most marginalized households with emotional support and access to state services. They provide vital and often unpaid support to people living with HIV, helping them to overcome the barriers they face to making their right to health a reality.

The Hidden From View exhibition was developed through an active partnership between Amnesty International and Senzokuhle Community-Based Organisation (CBO) Network. It celebrates the often hidden work of community-based carers in poor rural communities in South Africa.

The voices of the carers in this exhibition come from a particular area of KwaZulu-Natal, the province most affected by the HIV epidemic, where nearly 40 per cent of women attending antenatal clinics are HIV positive. The concerns they express have a resonance across the country however. Their role needs greater recognition and support as South Africa continues to develop its response to the epidemic.

Senzokuhle and Amnesty International collaborated in this initiative also to increase recognition of the importance of community-based care work in supporting people living with HIV. To contribute to wider civil society campaigning, we are urging the government of South Africa to ensure that such care work is valued and resourced. We believe that this will strengthen the state's efforts to meet its obligation to ensure non-discriminatory access to health services. The state must ensure that there is no discrimination in access to health services as part of making the right to health a reality.

The slideshow below provides an abridged version of the photo exhibition that has been successfully shown in two locations in South Africa as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence in 2011. The first exhibition in Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, was attended by the carers themselves as well as local dignitaries, policy makers and media. The second was held in Soweto and was also attended by local dignitaries, community carers from the Johannesburg area and youth participants. By portraying some of the sombre realities through photographs and testimonies, carers challenged the authorities to tackle the remaining barriers to health for women and the poor in remote communities.

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