Journal of Professional Nursing

New Zealand women living with HIV/AIDS: A feminist perspective

Jill Bennett, RN, BN, MA (Nursing), MCNA(NZ) Palliative Care Community Nurse, Mercy Hospice, Auckland   

Reference:  Bennett, J. (2007). New Zealand women living with HIV/AIDS: A feminist perspective. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 23(1), 4-16.   


This paper draws on current and earlier literature, together with observational and anecdotal data to reveal the situation of HIV positive women in New Zealand. The present picture is examined in relation to data from a previously unpublished qualitative study undertaken by the author in 2001 using a feminist perspective. It would seem that dominant concerns of the women today are much the same as those surfacing in the earlier study. These include stigma and the associated problem of whether to conceal or reveal. Additionally these women are concerned that health professionals do not always take their problems seriously. Their distress is aggravated by fact of them being women suffering from what is generally seen as a male disease. The feminist perspective highlights the relative powerlessness of many women in the context of sexual relations whereby much of the prophylactic advice – such as insistence on condom use – becomes irrelevant. New women oriented education programmes are needed. It is argued that nurses are well placed to make a positive contribution in this area of care, and in fact are obligated to do so if their practice is to be consistent with the profession’s declared aims with respect to cultural safety. However it is noted that there is still a degree of prejudice and ignorance to be overcome before the desired results will be achieved.  

HIV, women, qualitative research 

The purpose of this paper is to revisit the previously unpublished findings of a study completed in 2001 (Bennett, 2001) in the light of more recent literature related to the experience of HIV positive women in New Zealand. The earlier study was undertaken from a feminist perspective and the same approach informs the present article. For the author a two-year assignment with Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) in Africa caring for children many of whom were HIV positive, together with more recent employment as a palliative care nurse in New Zealand have served to reinforce interest in this field of nursing. The literature reveals that New Zealand is following the world wide trend that shows increasing prevalence of HIV infection in women. Yet, despite this trend, educational material related to HIV/ AIDS appears to still be dominated by aspects related to men. The gender specific power relationship issues facing women are ignored and instead negative stereotypes related to promiscuity are reinforced. Nursing as a profession, while embracing the ideas of cultural safety and gender specific care, appears to persist with a practice discourse that is critical and alienating rather than accepting and non-judgemental. It is argued here that there is an urgent need for further research to assist the development of guidelines, policy and procedures aimed at improving the quality of care for all women living with HIV/AIDS.

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