Sexual Conservatism Does Not Protect Women from HIV

TUC Women’s Conference today debated a motion on Women and HIV (pictured). I spoke against the motion. Below is my speech, plus some additional information to help clarify what has been a controversial issue.

The motion was defeated by 89 votes to 81, with 36 delegates abstaining.

I’m asking delegates to vote against this motion.

I believe that it is well-intentioned, and that it is vital to talk about the issue of women and HIV.

However, this motion is inaccurate and has reactionary implications, and it would be a dangerous for us to pass it.

  • It is not true that HIV rates among women are rising.
  • The fact is that they have been steadily decreasing since 2009.
  • HIV rates among women fell by 13% between 2016 and 2017
  • The rate of decrease is slower than among men, but that is not the same thing.

The biggest problem with this motion is its suggestion that divorce rates and liberal attitudes to sex are putting women at risk from HIV.
There is no report or evidence that asserts this. The only claim of this that we can find is in The Sun, which attributes it to unspecified ‘experts’.

Divorce and liberal attitudes to sex do not cause HIV. On the contrary, they help to protect women:

  • Divorce enables women to leave abusive relationships where they may be at risk.
  • Liberal attitudes to sex enables us to discuss sex, help us to assert what we want and to insist on safer sex.

Turning back the clock to more conservative times will not protect women.

What does work to protect women from HIV is education targeted at women, and proper government funding for health promotion, testing and PrEP.
This is effective if it takes place in a sex-positive environment that does not stigmatise sex. Because stigma prevents open and honest discussion and creates shame and secrecy.
With the current resurgence in right-wing social conservatism, it is vital that we do not feed its narrative.

There is some good stuff in this motion and I hope that the Women’s Committee takes up some of its ideas, such as working with the Sophia Forum. But we can only vote for or against the motion as a whole, and we must not pass a motion which despite its good intentions, is inaccurate and has reactionary implications.

Please vote against.

From subsequent exchanges on Twitter, it appears that the motion was based on newspaper reports of last year’s PRiME Study on tbe menopause in women living with HIV in England. The Sun and The Metro misreported the Study’s findings and embellished it with the totally unsubstantiated claim about divorce and liberal attitudes to sex.

The lesson for trade unionists is to bring forward motions that are based on involvement in campaigns, not on newspaper reports – or at least to rigorously check the accuracy of those reports. And to consider the political context.

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