Fighting AIDS at work place, The Nation

Date: January 1, 1970
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A new workplace programme and policy project seeks to prevent stigma and discrimination against HIV positive workers.

A new workplace programme and policy project seeks to prevent stigma and discrimination against HIV positive workers.

This article may be used to:
  • Highlight the importance of accuracy in reporting.

Trainer’s Notes

This article on stigma and discrimination against workers living with HIV is an example of how the media makes women invisible;  how the media fails to mainstream gender into coverage; and how through language, the media also promotes stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

While the article raises the important rights issue of the need to protect the human rights of people living with HIV and with AIDS, it focuses on men and does not include women.

Women are especially susceptible to victimization as a result of their HIV status, and their unequal position in society will often be reinforced once they are identified as living with HIV/AIDS.

The article sends the message, both through the sources and the photograph, that ‘only men are workers’ and that ‘only men are living with HIV’.  Male workers are sourced in the story and it is their lives that are used as the anecdotes to tell the story. The only female voice in the story is that of the head of the project.

To balance the perspective and to depict the reality, the article also should have included the voices and perspectives of women workers living with HIV. Women already face discrimination in the workplace by virtue of their unequal status. Living with HIV adds another form of discrimination making women more vulnerable in the workplace to labour rights violations.

The data given in the story also is gender blind. The data on the number of people who have died of AIDS-related illnesses ; the HIV prevalence in the country; and the number of people reached by the project (4000 according to the female director sourced) should be disaggregated by sex. The story also should include sex-disaggregated data on the number of women and men in the country’s workforce.

There also are gender dimensions to policy formulation which are not explored in the story.  Policies too can be gender blind when they are formulated without taking into account women’s unequal position and the special needs and concerns of women that result from inequalities.

Since women and men may face different forms of discrimination in the workplace (which can be highlighted in the articles through women’s voices) because of their HIV status, the report should have analysed further how the proposed programme and policies will benefit women.  This can be done through journalists asking the right questions. Some of these questions may include, among others:

  • Is the policy for all workers or only those at certain levels? If it is for workers at certain levels? Are women in the categories of those who will benefit?
  • Is the policy for all workers – permanent, casual, part-time, etc? If it is only for full-time permanent employees, again one needs to ask whether the majority of the women are full-time employees?
  • What health care needs are catered for in the policy? Is women’s reproductive health care included?

 The article also shows the reporter’s lack of understanding of HIV and AIDS which leads to inaccuracy in reporting. For example:

  • AIDS is described as ‘a disease’ but it is a syndrome- a cluster of different illnesses or infections which may cause death.
  • The story says 500,000 people have died of AIDS. People die from an AIDS-related illness, not from AIDS.
  • HIV is described as the ‘deadly virus’, yet with access to good treatment, people can manage their HIV status and live long and healthy lives.

Terms like ‘deadly virus’, ‘plague’ and ‘scourge’ are sensational and also can perpetuate stigma and discrimination against people living with the virus.

Training exercises:

Exercise one: Discuss the following:

  1. Is there a gender angle to the story? Explain answer.

  2. What message/stereotype is conveyed by the article?

  3. How can gender be mainstreamed into this article? (sources, data, context, etc)

Exercise two: This article contains frequent errors that appear in reports on HIV and AIDS, which show journalists and editors lack of understanding about the virus and the syndrome it causes.

  1. Identify the language in the article which is inaccurate and which perpetuates stigma and discrimination.
  2. Discuss what you found and brainstorm together on other language commonly associated with HIV/AIDS in the media and alternatives that can be used.


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