The fight against HIV and AIDS should not be seen as solely for health purposes outside the broader sphere of human rights context. It is high time Botswana implemented laws that deal directly with HIV/AIDS. This was said by the Paralegal and Research Coordinator for Ditshwanelo, Silibaziso Mtunzi, at a discussion forum on issues of Stigma and Discrimination in Botswana held recently.
Held under the theme: ‘Using the law to address HIV and AIDS related stigma and discrimination’, the objective behind the forum discussion was to highlight laws and policies that exist in Botswana and that can be used to address stigma and discrimination of HIV infected and affected people in the social, religious, employment and health sectors.
“If HIV and AIDS issues are human rights issues, it is, therefore, necessary that we look at these from a legal perspective,” said Mtunzi. He said people should know the protection offered under the constitution for those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. Mtunzi emphasized that people should know both what the international law says and the law reforms that are essential to protect and destigmatise people living with HIV/AIDS. He also pointed out that law can definitely be used to fight HIV/AIDS stigma provided there are adequate laws to offer protection to those affected and infected.
For people to overcome stigma and discrimination, said Z. Kraai from BONEPWA, they should capacitate those who are living with HIV/AIDS with knowledge of their rights.
“No policy or laws alone can combat HIV/AIDS related discrimination,” he said.
Turning to the role of language, Rekha Kumar, lecturer in the Department of Law at the University of Botswana, stated that language has a strong influence on attitudes towards HIV/AIDS and people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. He said that appropriate language is constructive and does not fuel stereotype nor does it cause prejudice.
Kabo Mathumo, from BONELA, addressed the delegates on ‘Using the law to address HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination’” and said that the law is not a one stop solution to deal with stigma and discrimination. But, he said, the law can be a part of the solution. “Having the law in place needs to be accompanied by the fact that the ordinary people need to know and understand the law and need to have the ability to access it.”
Mathumo said people in Botswana may not enjoy the kind of legal reform that is in existence because a lot of them access the judicial system through the kgotla.
The forum agreed on recommendations among which was the need to create an enabling environment for individuals to address their self-stigma need through public education initiatives.
“Education initiatives dealing with stigma in families as well as in communities need to be created,” said one of the participants. Also agreed upon was the need to revisit statutes on privacy, and that legal aid be made accessible to everyone, including marginalized populations, and those in rural areas.
The participants called for a law to punish discrimination against HIV and AIDS and expressed the need for the National Policy to be made into law that is enforceable since it would serve as a guide.