HIV and gender violence – a terrible alliance

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"It is impossible to talk about HIV/AIDS without talking about domestic and sexual violence." - Peer educator for men, Men as Partners Program, South Africa

Gender violence is a strong driver of the HIV epidemic, with its roots in gender inequality; gender violence is a major barrier to the prevention of this infectious disease which affects women disproportionately. Arguably, gender violence is the greatest barrier – with the safety of women and girls consistently denied or ignored by culture, religion and legislature.

The stark truth

Its extent is gruesome. HIV spreads worldwide, with rapists seeking new victims, and violence within the intimacy of home and marriage.  A report from Human Rights Watch (2003) presents the sobering reality facing many women:

"My husband hated condom use. He never allowed it. He would beat me often. He used to beat me when I refused to sleep with him. He wouldn’t use a condom. He said when we are married, how can we use a condom? It’s a wife’s duty to have sex with her husband because that is the main reason you come together.  But there should be love. When I knew about his girlfriends, I feared that I would get infected with HIV. But he didn’t listen to me. I tried to insist on using a condom but he refused. So I gave in because I really feared [him]." (A 31-year-old Ugandan woman)

Such instances are not confined to Uganda or its neighbouring countries. In Scotland, testing for HIV is often not easy. Women are often the first to test for the sake of protecting their unborn child. If the woman tests first, and it is positive, it is easily assumed that she herself is the source of infection, when in fact; it is often her husband or partner. In many instances women are hesitant to speak of their HIV status because of the lack of support at home. For some, this is compounded by issues of violence and abuse. 

These are sensitive and difficult issues. It is often difficult to influence events and consequences behind closed doors.

Take action – we all have a part to play

With such blatant and damaging links between violence against women and the ongoing spread of HIV, we all have a part to play:

  • We must address gender inequality and HIV stigma with interventions that aim to empower individuals and groups to demand their rights and improve gender relations.
  • We must ensure the meaningful participation of all young people, women and men so that we build powerful and effective community level responses.
  • For our global health and wellbeing, we must do all we can to challenge gender violence and the spread of HIV.

Find out more about HIV Scotland on their website

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