29 August 2012

Addressing the Problem of Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS

The problem of gender discrimination is closely linked to violence against women.The connection goes further in areas where HIV/AIDS is a significant problem as women are at an increasingly higher risk of experiencing a cycle of violence and discrimination that is brought about due to gender and heightened by HIV.

A UN Women report outlines the problem and makes suggestions as to how to deal with the issue of violence against women and HIV/AIDS. It is important because discrimination against women has a negative impact on the development of countries.

“Legal reforms, economic incentives and community mobilisation are critical to rectifying this social discrimination and economic injustice,” said Carlos Alvarez, Deputy Director of the OECD Development Centre at the July release of UN Women's Social Institutions and Gender Index. The index accounted for gender discrimination in countries around the world finding that half of women surveyed believe domestic violence to be justified in certain circumstances. Other obstacles include child marriages and discriminatory inheritance practices.

The good news is that countries are making progress against discrimination and violence. The report found that 53 countries have laws that combat discrimination, up from 21 in 2009. Positive progress is encouraging, but the problems that are compounded when HIV and violence intersect illustrate the gravity and challenge gender discrimination.

"Violence against women and HIV/AIDS are also inextricably intertwined and mutually reinforcing in the lives of millions of women and girls: women who are subject to violence are more likely to contract HIV than other women, and women who are HIV-positive face a heightened risk of violence," says the UNW report.

Funding from Johnson & Johnson allowed for the issue to be addressed from 2005-8, but it was quickly learned that little information and research had been collected in regards to the issue of HIV and violence. The release marks what may be the first comprehensive study of the issue and finds that the problems of HIV and gender-based violence are in fact connected.

Research in Soweto, South Africa found that women with violent or controlling partners were at a higher risk of contracting HIV. In situations of conflict, women are at an even greater risk of sexual and physical violence that in turn makes them vulnerable to contracting HIV.

Further, women who are HIV-positive are at a greater risk of violence, stigma and social exclusion. It makes it challenging for women to then disclose their status to their partners which can perpetuate the spread of HIV.

Change is possible as the report looks towards a coordinated and multifaceted approach to creating long-term social change. Nigeria's Civil Resource Development and Documentation Center project serves as an example of how a resource for reporting violence can empower women to understand their rights and advocate within their communities.

Other interventions include using media, distributing information, and conducting community outreach programs. The report points to the most important groups in affecting the issue, "Though we all share moral and ethical obligations to contribute to the eradication of these twin pandemics, those best placed to make a difference on the scale necessary are policy-makers, women’s rights advocates, service providers, and the media."