December 1st is World AIDS Day, when we raise awareness across the world about the issues surrounding HIV and AIDS. It is a day for people to show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.
Today, we want to raise awareness about the connection between HIV/AIDS and violence against women. Research from countries most affected by HIV transmission established a clear and undeniable link between HIV infection and violence against women. This involves multiple pathways with the root causes lying in gender inequality.
Rigid gender stereotypes about masculinity, gender roles and norms may lead to unsafe and/or non-consensual sex. Lack of gender equality and dominant social expectations prevent women from joint, safe and free negotiations of condom use. Unsafe sexual practices deny women the full enjoyment of their sexual and reproductive rights, and thus increase the risks of unplanned pregnancies and HIV and STI transmission.
Often, HIV transmission is the result of sexual and gender-based violence. In conflict situations, where rape is used as a weapon of war, the risks of HIV transmission are also high.
In addition, several studies from different parts of the world have indicated that up to one third of adolescent girls reported that their first sexual experience was coerced.
Furthermore, the World Health Organisation states that “HIV can also be a risk factor for violence since disclosure can put women at risk of violence by their partners, family or community members”.
Economic factors exacerbate risks and put women in a vulnerable position. Women who are engaging in sex work or survival sex are at high risk both of being subjected to violence and of HIV transmission.
Programmes and policies should address the underlying social and economic issues, structural factors, gender inequalities and harmful gender norms and apply a human rights focus. At the same time, there is a need to develop services, such as comprehensive post rape care that responds to the physical and psychological health needs of the violence survivor, and testing and counselling services that address violence. A lot of work needs to be done to remove stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.
- World Health Organisation, Violence against Women and HIV/AIDS http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/violence/hiv/en/
- IDS Health and Development Information Team, the link between violence against women and HIV and AIDS http://www.hivpolicy.org/Library/HPP001388.pdf