July 7, 2011

IconSignificant HIV risk for lesbian and bisexual women in southern Africa

Ongoing research conducted by South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) has suggested that lesbian and bisexual women in southern Africa are increasingly likely to be at risk of HIV infection.

A pilot study found that 71% of participants were “at risk” of infection due to a lack of information on safe sex and high levels of rape. The study was conducted with a sample of 500 lesbian and bisexual women from four southern African countries.

Significant risks included “engaging in transactional sex” and “engaging in non-consensual sex with both men and women”, according to Zethu Mathabane of the HSRC.

“There are general misconceptions in the general population that lesbian women are not at risk of HIV,” she added. 30% of the study participants engaged in unprotected sex because they believed they were not at risk of contracting HIV.

Dr Vicci Tallis of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa argued that the initial results demonstrate that further research is needed. “I think it’s very clear that when we talk about lesbian women, bisexual women, it’s a very diverse group and there are a lot of complexities around sexual practises, identity demographics,” she said.

“Lesbian and other women who have sex with women do not have adequate information and services relating to HIV. I think it also shows that lesbian women want and need access to general health services and specific HIV and AIDS health services. We have got experiences documented of lesbian women who get negative treatment when their sexuality is known and we think it’s clear that lesbian women are at risk of HIV”.


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Ruth Pearce


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