Although the prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV) in Southeast Asia is one of the highest in the world, IPV remains understudied in the region, especially among women living with HIV (WLWH). This study aims to understand how gender and violence norms influence how WLWH interpret and prioritize violence as a health issue. We also explore whether HIV disclosure was seen as a trigger for IPV. We conducted in-depth interviews with 20 WLWH (median age = 35.5 years; range = 28-54 years) in northern Vietnam. Participants were recruited from an outpatient antiretroviral treatment (ART) clinic. Semi-structured interviews were transcribed, translated, and analyzed to identify themes using a gender-focused theoretical framework. Twelve participants reported experiencing IPV by their current or former husbands, most of which occurred before their HIV diagnoses. Only one participant felt her HIV status was a factor for the IPV she experienced; the remaining participants did not explicitly link IPV and HIV. None expressed fear or experience of IPV after disclosing to their husbands. When asked about a woman's role in society, the majority spoke about the responsibility to build family harmony by doing housework, raising children, making a steady income, and being faithful to her husband. Participants viewed marital conflict as the woman's problem to avoid by acting docile or to resolve peacefully by bearing violence quietly. Almost all reported contracting HIV from their husbands. Regardless of whether their children were infected (n = 8) or not (n = 10), participants spoke about being compelled to initiate and adhere to ART to care for their children emotionally and financially. In the context of Vietnamese gender norms, participants expressed low urgency for help-seeking after experiencing IPV and high urgency for help-seeking after being diagnosed with HIV. Multilevel interventions are needed to shift social norms around acceptability of IPV.
Keywords: HIV/AIDS; Vietnam; gender norms; intimate partner violence.