Women and HIV in Canada

Women make up a growing proportion of people living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS in Canada. In 2009, women accounted for 26.2% of all HIV positive test results in the country, a significant increase in comparison to the rate of 11.7% prior to 1999 (1).

While all women are potentially at risk for HIV infection, women who belong to socially and economically marginalized populations face a number of inter-connecting determinants of health such as racism, (un)employment, homelessness, stigma and poverty, which adversely impact their risk for HIV infection and their experiences accessing diagnosis, care, treatment and support. For example, Aboriginal women, who represent about 4% of the Canadian female population, accounted for 45% of positive HIV tests among women in 2007 (2). Black women, who represent a little more than 2% of women in Canada, accounted for about 20% of all positive tests among women in 2007 (3). A report published in 2010 estimated that 7.9% of the female population in federal prisons was HIV positive (4). Young women aged between 15 and 19 represented 57% of test reports for this age group in 2009 (5). Because of pervasive transphobia, transgendered and transsexual people are at high risk of becoming infected with HIV. This being the case, trans people are seldom included in research and policy work, and they face significant barriers when it comes to accessing trans-friendly prevention, health and social support services (6).

Early on in the course of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Canada, the Canadian AIDS Society recognized that women face a number of issues and determinants of health that affect both their vulnerability to HIV and their experiences accessing prevention, care, treatment and support. The Canadian AIDS Society spearheaded one of the first national Women and HIV Prevention projects in the 1990s, and was heavily involved in the organization of the first National Conference on Women and HIV/AIDS in Canada in 2000. CAS is also one of the founding members of Blueprint for Action on Women and Girls and HIV/AIDS, a national coalition that advocates for responses that meet the needs of women, girls and trans people in Canada and internationally. More recently, CAS has been working in collaboration with a diverse number of partners to develop a research agenda for women, trans people, girls and HIV/AIDS in Canada.

  1. See Public Health Agency of Canada. (2010). HIV and AIDS in Canada: Surveillance Report to December 31, 2009. Ottawa: LCDC, Public Health Agency of Canada.
  2. See Gahagan, J.; Sharman, Z. (Co-facilitators). (2009). Women and HIV in Canada: The Past, the Present, and the Future: Implications for Research, Policy and Practice. Report from a special session held at the 18th Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research.
  3. See Gahagan and Sharman, 2009.
  4. See Zakaria, D.; Thompson, J.M.; Jarvis, A. and F. Borgatta. (2010). Summary of Emerging Findings from the 2007 National Inmate Infectious Diseases and Risk-Behaviours Survey. Correctional Service of Canada.
  5. See Public Health Agency of Canada, 2010.
  6. See Bauer, G. R.; Hammond, R.; Travers, R.; Kaay, M.; Hohenadel, K. M.; Boyce, M. (2009). “I don’t think this is theoretical; this is our lives:” How erasure impacts health care for transgender people. Journal of the Association of Nurses in Aids Care, 20(5), pp.348-361.
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