Hidden From View – HIV and women in rural South Africa

By an Amnesty International staff member,

South Africa has made great progress in combating the HIV epidemic in the last three years. Yet people in rural communities, particularly women, still struggle to protect their health because of poverty and discrimination.

The beautiful and lush hills of northern KwaZulu-Natal belie the realities of the people living there. Remote, extremely poor with high food insecurity and alarming levels of HIV infection. Nearly 40 per cent of women attending antenatal clinics are HIV positive.

People are at risk because of their isolation. Roads, where they exist, are bad. In households where most families do not have enough money for food, money for transport simply does not exist.

Women are particularly vulnerable. Without any authority in the household, they and their health are at the mercy of their husband’s choices and decisions.

In this precarious environment, carers, some of whom are also directly affected by HIV, provide the most marginalized households with emotional support and access to state services.

Not having enough food causes extreme distress. Carers assist the most vulnerable secure social welfare grants to help them get by and to stay on their antiretroviral treatment.

The impact of transport costs is another urgent concern raised by many carers. Zikhokhile Ntombela told us of one woman she supported who could not get to the clinic because she couldn’t afford the journey. “She is in a situation where death is imminent.”

Domestic violence is widespread and a difficult issue for carers to tackle. Thembi Xulu was assisting a very sick woman whose husband repeatedly forced her to have sex and refused to let her to go to a clinic. “He won’t really let her do anything that will protect her health.”

Last year Amnesty International and Senzokuhle, a network of carers, collaborated to create a photo-story exhibition to highlight these concerns. It is being shown in Durban on International Women’s Day. The slideshow below is an abridged version. By portraying some of the sombre realities through photographs and testimonies, the carers are challenging the authorities to tackle the remaining barriers to health for women and the poor in remote communities.


Urge President Jacob Zuma to ensure all branches of government are involved in fighting HIV/AIDS, rural poverty and gender-based discrimination. Email him on [email protected] or connect through Facebook (PresidencyZA) or Twitter @SAPresident

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