Why We Need To Center Reproductive Justice in Our HIV/AIDS Work

A View of the HIV/AIDS Landscape

Step into the fourth decade of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. The world faces a striking phenomenon: increasingly high HIV/AIDS transmission rates among youth and women of color in under-resourced communities.  Alongside increased transmission rates among socially and politically marginalized groups, persistent gender inequalities prevail that have subjected women to both high HIV vulnerability and poor access to care.

These circumstances imperil the health and survival of all women, particularly marginalized women - women who are poor, working-class, undocumented immigrants, and women of color.  More than ever before, the overlapping forces that facilitate risk and undermine access to basic services and qualify life require that we embrace a reproductive justice (RJ) approach. Ultimately, RJ will determine how equipped we are to fight the raging health battles we face today.


What is Reproductive Justice

An RJ approach to HIV/AIDS allows us to address the myriad ways HIV/AIDS shapes women’s reproductive futures. As noted by RJ activist Loretta Ross, RJ is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” This approach emphasizes the need for “women and girls to have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.”

RJ activists have long argued for a politics that transcends approaches to health based solely on “individual choice” and privacy-based claims to legal abortion.  RJ understands that the idea of “choice” gets more tricky in contexts dominated by abuse and sexual exploitation, as well as racialized and class stratification in access to care.  It recognizes that when intimate aspects of women’s lives become crucial sites for political battles over health, welfare, and law and order, some bodies become more undeserving than others.

In the context of HIV/AIDS, RJ provides us with the tools to allow women to access the resources, services, and care needed to control their reproductive capacities and live healthy lives. Its emphasis on multi-layered approaches to service, advocacy, and organizing offers a strategic vision to address holistic health and meaningful living.




RJ cuts across many, if not all, issues contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Various factors heighten women’s vulnerability – lack of awareness of sexual health rights, access to timely and quality perinatal care, abuse, and the distribution of wealth and public services. Persistent inequities in health care quality coupled with limited access to health knowledge and socioeconomic opportunities create fundamental human rights issues. Addressing the underlying factors that shape vulnerability and risk is crucial to the long-term control of the epidemic.


RJ sheds light on several human rights issues to which the AIDS epidemic adds an ongoing, frightening dimension. Like access to contraceptives, access to knowledge and services about HIV/AIDS as well as our sexual and reproductive health rights are RJ concerns. These concerns must intersect with our HIV/AIDS interventions, as well as our agendas for racial justice, gender equality, and health research.



The Future of HIV and RJ Work


I’ve taken this on in my own work. My name is Jallicia Jolly. I am a 3rd year PhD student at the University of Michigan studying the coping strategies of HIV-positive women in Detroit, MI and Kingston, Jamaica. As a Jamaican American ethnographer, reproductive justice advocate and HIV/AIDS peer educator, I remain fascinated by the interplay among culture, sexuality, gender, and illness. While exploring the dimensions of survival in these different geographic contexts, I hope to continue documenting the myriad ways that HIV/AIDS has reconfigured Black women’s lives, relationships, and aspirations.

Jallicia is a Jamaican American PhD student at the University of Michigan studying HIV/AIDS, reproductive justice, and coping. Follow her Twitter (@jallicia) and Instagram (@iamjallicia).