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‘The intention may not be cruel… but the impact may be’: understanding legislators’ motives and wider public attitudes to a draft HIV Bill in Malawi
  1. Lucy Stackpool-Moore
  1. Correspondence to Lucy Stackpool-Moore, HIV, IPPF, 115B Tollington Way, London N7 6RE, UK; lucysmoore{at}


Objectives The law in relation to HIV has prominence in the formation and regulation of moral norms—in regard to human rights, and in regard to criminalisation, the policing of sexuality and intimate behaviours, and the production of stigma. The research focuses on the potential and impotence of the law to govern for, and enable, the human right to health in the context of HIV in Malawi.

Methods This one-country qualitative case study (Malawi) action research involved data collection during a 6-month period (October 2010–March 2011). Datasets include interviews with law commissioners (n=10), opinion leaders (n=22), life story participants who were people living with and closely affected by HIV (n=20), reflections of the action research team (n=6), and a review of the proposed HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Bill, legal and policy documents.

Results The analysis of the perspectives of the law commissioners, who formed the Special Law Commission and drafted the Bill, revealed that stigma was consciously invoked to delineate social norms and guide governance of notions of personal responsibility. The analysis of the perspectives of the life story participants, whose lives would be most directly impacted if these provisions came into force, reveals the extent to which the stigma associating criminality and HIV is falling on fertile ground through its engagement and generation of internalised stigma; unearthing an uneasy link between stigma and the law in response to HIV in Malawi.

Discussion The results indicated that the proposed HIV Bill in Malawi manifests a tension between intention and impact. By incorporating criminal sanctions as part of the proposed HIV Bill, the lawmakers actively seek to use stigma to shape social attitudes and attempt to guide normative behaviour.

  • HIV
  • LAW

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