Being woman and living with HIV/AIDS in New Zealand : a feminist perspective : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts in Nursing at Massey University
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) was first diagnosed in the early 1980s. It was constructed in the western world as a 'male disease' affecting predominately gay men. At the same time women were identified as having HIV/AIDS. They, however, have figured very minimally in the unfolding discourse surrounding HIV/AIDS. Nine New Zealand women took part in this study which explores and describes their experiences of being HIV positive. Participants described feeling 'invisible' within a 'male disease', and a sense of not being taken seriously. Participants felt they were influenced by the social construction of women with HIV, which defines them as 'carriers' of the virus to men and 'transmitters' to the 'innocent' unborn foetus. Women's role in society, and gender social and power inequalities have led these participants to believe that HIV/AIDS is experienced as a different disease for women than it is for men. Nursing discourse related to HIV/AIDS in the early 1990s supported the notion that HIV/AIDS patients were people who were deviant and/or addicted. Nurses were influenced by the social and medical construction of HIV/AIDS and many have contributed toward negative attitudes with bias and prejudice and lack of understanding. This attitude in turn has contributed negatively to the quality of care given to women with HIV/AIDS. Women's stories have yet to emerge as a significant contribution to the HIV/AIDS issue. This thesis plays a part in the beginning of that contribution.