A shameful campaign that blames HIV positive women should be stopped, says ICW

Press release - A new government-sponsored HIV prevention campaign in Swaziland uses insulting language to target HIV positive women and suggests that they are the cause of the spread of HIV.

Makhwapheni is used as an insult in Swazi culture and refers to women who have secret lovers or are mistresses. The Makhwapheni Campaign says that all HIV positive women are Makhwapheni. It blames HIV positive women for being the cause of HIV infection.

‘The reality is that most Swazi women ‘get HIV in their own bedrooms from their husbands’. (ICW member) This perpetuates the stigma and inequity that HIV positive women live with every day and it portrays men as innocent players.

An ICW spokeswomen says,

‘This misguided campaign takes Swaziland back 20 years when moralistic and judgemental programmes failed to reduce rates of transmission. With one of the highest global rates of HIV infection (42.6%), the government now has in effect stigmatised 25% of the population.’

The government’s campaign has been launched by Swaziland’s National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) and was developed through the corporate sector.

  • NERCHA rebuffed the Swaziland National Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (SWANNEPHA) in their attempts to take part in the development of the campaign.
  • NERCHA and the government have ignored the protests of HIV positive people even after a demonstration of 900 positive people marched to the Prime Minister and NERCHA’s office to deliver a petition.

In answer to this shameful campaign and the lack of any meaningful involvement of HIV positive women, SWANNEPHA has launched a protest which is being backed by legal representation and the support of many other organisations.

ICW stands in solidarity with SWANNEPHA. HIV positive women must be centrally involved in any campaigns to prevent the spread of HIV. We will continue to resist backward looking, moralistic prevention programmes.

Notes to Editors

Gcebile Ndlovu is at the Toronto AIDS Conference. She and other African ICW members and staff are available to talk to the media about the situation in Swaziland and about the negative effects of all judgemental HIV prevention programmes – especially on women and girls.