Stop violence against women; stop HIV
27 November 2006
For Ugandan mother Margaret Namusisi, violence and HIV infection are constant threats. “There are times when I tell [my husband] to use a condom but he refuses. That causes disputes. So I have sex with him so that he will provide for the children and won’t fight,” she said1. “The co-wives are dying one by one. He’s still having sex with me without a condom. If I tell him to use a condom there is such a big fight.”
Margaret’s experiences are far from unusual. For millions of women across the world, violence or the threat of violence is an every day reality. Recent research by the World Health Organization reveals that in some countries more than half of all women experience sexual violence by an intimate partner.
And for many of women, violence dramatically increases their vulnerability to HIV infection. Studies from Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania show up to three-fold increases in risk of HIV among women who have experienced violence compared to those who have not. Violence or fear of violent reaction makes it difficult or impossible for many women to abstain from sex, to get their partners to be faithful, or to use a condom. For the same reason, women are often deterred from accessing HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services
In South Africa, national youth surveys show that 33% of young women report they are afraid of saying no to sex and 55% have sex when they do not want to because their partner insists. More alarming still, between 20%-48% of adolescent girls aged 10-25 report their first sexual encounter was forced.
“Wherever you find violence —whether it's physical, psychological, or sexual —there will be AIDS. HIV entered my life through violence, as it has for so many, and we must actively commit to bring this to an end," said Violeta Ross Quiroga, National Chair of the Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (REDBOL)
In an effort to stem violence against women the Center for Women’s Global Leadership launched the ‘ 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence’ in 1991. Running every year from 25 November – 10 December, this international campaign highlights the fact that millions of women in every society around the world face violence every day, most often at the hands of husbands and partners, and within the so-called safety of their homes and families.
“The 16 Days Campaign brings together an incredible range of individuals and organizations to call for one thing: the elimination of violence against women,” said Sarah Russell of the UNAIDS-led Global Coalition on Women and AIDS. “The campaign is getting bigger by the year, and its message starker.”
In the past two years, the campaign has underscored the intersections between domestic violence and HIV.
“Not only does forced sex make women more liable to infection, but the fear of violent male reactions – physical and psychological - prevents many women from going to find out more about HIV,” said Russell “It discourages them from getting tested and stops them seeking treatment.”
That’s why the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS has made eliminating violence against women a priority, calling on governments the world over to enact and enforce laws that prevent violence against women, and develop strategies so that those who uphold the law know how to apply it and support survivors of violence. The Coalition also recommends that national AIDS plans integrate strategies to reduce violence against women, and link violence prevention efforts with mainstream HIV prevention and treatment services.
1 Interview with Human Rights Watch, 2003