Violence Against Women: Cause And Consequence of HIV

Increasingly we see evidence on the
prevalence of rape and how rape increases women’s and girls’ risk to HIV. It confirms for us that rape and sexual
violence is endemic; in 2002 WHO said one in five women will be raped or will
be a victim of attempted rape in the world.
International women’s human rights instruments have resulted in legislation
on violence against women in many countries, however, many are not implemented,
enforced, and resourced, with the same zeal as say, the prevention and
containment of the H1N1 virus, aka the swine flu.  We have to ask ourselves why that is.

Good news is, there is increasing
recognition that violence against women and HIV are intertwined health and
human rights crises. Some of us are frustrated that this link was not
acknowledged and acted upon much earlier. Many of us feel if states, multilateral
and bilateral agencies had fulfilled their longstanding commitments to promote,
protect and fulfill women’s and girls’ human rights, specifically our right to
be free from violence and the threat of violence we might not have seen the
rapid growth of the pandemic amongst women and girls. Case in point – sub
Saharan Africa – where women and girls make up a majority of those living with
HIV and where young women are 4-6 times more at risk of HIV than young men.

In recent years there has been
progress, especially by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Most notably, in 2007, UNAIDS for the first time costed interventions to
prevent and respond to violence against women and girls in an effort to
estimate resources needed for the global AIDS response. Earlier this year,
UNAIDS included violence against women and girls as one of 8 Priority Areas in
the Joint Action for Results: UNAIDS Outcomes Framework 2009-2011.

However, this does not mean our work
is done.

HIV and VAW: it cannot be just about
sexual violence
Yes, the link between sexual
violence and HIV transmission is the easiest to make. Nevertheless, studies
show that physical, social and economic violence also contributes to women’s
inability to refuse sex or negotiate safe sex thereby increasing their risk to
HIV. This is not news to us. Those of who are working to secure women’s and
girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights have know for
decades that gender inequality and violence restricts our ability to decide whom
we marry, whether, how many and when we have children. We know that women’s and
girls’ control over our own bodies and reproductive lives is denied or limited
through all forms of violence (and the threat of violence), and not just sexual
violence. Despite this, too many limit the link between violence against women
and HIV to sexual violence.

HIV and VAW: It cannot be just about
While we should welcome the
attention to and potential action on violence against women as it intersects
with HIV we demand that this not be limited to prevention interventions. Indeed,
all HIV prevention programs have to integrate a response to violence if they
seek to stem the growth of the pandemic. Some of these programs include,
investment in research, availability, affordability of women controlled
prevention technologies, universal access to female condoms, universal access
to post exposure prophylaxis to survivors of violence, zero tolerance of
violence in schools and other educational institutions, investment in community
based programs that challenge negative and restrictive gender norms and
violence against women, investment to increase women’s and girls’ access to
justice, etc.

As we celebrate this important,
though overdue, attention we have to remember the flip side of the relationship
between violence against women and girls and HIV. The side which affects HIV
positive women and their ability to live healthy and productive lives. Just as
loudly as we say, violence is a cause of HIV; we must say HIV is a cause of
violence against women and girls. Actual or perceived HIV status makes HIV
positive women easy targets of violence or threats of violence hampering their
access HIV services. Human Rights Watch’s research (Hidden in the Mealie Meal),
clearly demonstrates how violence and the fear of violence severely inhibits
women’s ability to access and adhere to ARV treatment. If we are serious about
universal access to treatment and are interested in ensuring those who receive
treatment are able to adhere to it, we must integrate a response to violence
against women in HIV testing, counseling and treatment programs. The Women
Won’t Wait campaign has been calling for scaled up training of health care
providers, particularly providers of HIV voluntary counseling, testing and
treatment, to recognize and respond to signs of violence. HIV voluntary counseling
and testing, and treatment interventions must include protocols, systems and
services to respond to violence against women and girls. The same goes for
PMTCT (and plus) programs. Research shows that women’s risk of violence
increases during pregnancy, and it is essential that pregnant women generally
and especially those that access PMTCT are screened for violence and provided a
package of services (see box). 

Male circumcision and women’s rights

The WWW campaign believes that
prevention strategies for both men and women must be invested in so that these
are available, accessible, affordable and of high quality. There is already a
gap between prevention strategies for men and women; and a scaled up roll out
of MC must not widen this gap. Women controlled prevention methods including
female condoms, must be made available with equal commitment and vigor. Among
other things, in rolling out male circumcision, it will be important to monitor
rates of gender-based violence, as well as coercive sex that may occur during
the period of wound healing/recommended abstinence post surgery and thereafter.

Criminalization of HIV exposure and
transmission will harm women
As we continue to advocate for
attention to, action on and resources for a gender sensitive AIDS response we
must remain vigilant about moves that wittingly or unwittingly violate or have
the potential of violating human rights. The recent trend to criminalize HIV
exposure and transmission violates rights of HIV positive women and men and has
the potential to undermine or even reverse gains made by the global AIDS
response. When governments say they are doing this to respond to the epidemic
of violence women and girls, we must remind them to fulfill their longstanding
and binding commitments to promote, protect and fulfill women’s human rights

Finally, as activists we have to consistently
advocate for the rights of all women, those of us who are HIV positive, in sex
work, with disabilities, who have sex with women, etc. It is only when we
advocate for the rights of all of us will we secure our own.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • faultroy

    Your comment about one in five women will be raped or an attempted rape sounds suspiciously like the quote from the Dept of Justice which says: "One in five women will experience either a Rape or Sexual Assault in their lifetime."  I did some research on this on the Bureau of Justice Statistics website, and this number is based on a statistical sampling survey that is sent out once a year to a select group of individuals on general crime and then complemented with the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. The NCVS appears to have only a couple of questions on this general crime Survey pertaining to sex  the rest of the Survey deals with Felony, Misdemeanors and Petty Crimes. The Survey is called the National Crime Victimization Survey and you can see a copy of it on the Dept of Justice Website, and it is sent to approximately 1300 random sampled individuals (at least it was for 2008.) According to the DJS it is then mingled with the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Those numbers are based on reports collected by the FBI from State Police Depts submitting information. I contacted the FBI after looking at the Stats (Uniform Crime Reports) on their website, and asked why some states had very high crime rates ( numbers per thousand people which is how they break out the surveys), and some had substantially low numbers and some had no numbers–such as Illinois which has the third largest city (Chicago) and they don’t report at all. The FBI researcher told me that the numbers were the best they had, but they were very inadequate. In any case, the answers of the National Crime Victimization Survey by the Justice Dept asks about Rape, Attempted Rape and Sexual Assault. The definition of "Sexual Assault" (according to the Justice Dept) can be nothing more than someone saying that they would like to have sex with you.  (My point is that the term sexual assault according to the Justice Dept is not an actual physical Assault but a "verbal assault can quality as a "sexual assault" and is strictly ones own opinion–that is the opinion of the person filling out the form. So if a person says something like "Hey Nice Rack," that is considered a sexual assault if the person filling out the form thinks of it as a sexual assault. There is no verification on any of the forms but there is of course for the FBI numbers. Though incomplete, the FBI Reports are far more accurate since it deals with actual case file reports taken by police departments.  And while the Justice Dept Survey lists anything as a sexual assault, the criterion for the FBI’s stats are far more stringent. The difference is between night and day. In any case,I have no idea where you got that statistic, but even a little 2nd grade math will indicate that if that were true (your comment), that would mean that 20 per cent of the female population would either be raped or have an attempted rape on them–this is of course absurd and totally untrue. Furthermore the FBI told me that Soccer Moms are mixing Rape and Molestations in inner city high crime rates in which the Rapes per thousand are far higher than in the much safer suburbs, and projecting these same numbers to their environments which is totally misleading.  I hope that you will take the time to do your own fact checking since it wouild be really wonderful if people would stop publishing inaccurate, misleading and false statistical data.  And while you are at it–since this seems to be a concern of yours–perhaps you may be interested in doing some research on the newly released Dept of Defense Report on Rape and Sexual Assault in the Military–just google it, it is fascinating reading and very enlightening.

  • colleen

    Your comment about one in five women will be raped or an attempted rape
    sounds suspiciously like the quote from the Dept of Justice which says:
    "One in five women will experience either a Rape or Sexual Assault in
    their lifetime."


    That may be so but the author clearly cites WHO (The World Health Organization)




    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • teb-abhour

    There is another difference…. Roughly one billion murders.

    The pro-human rights movement is about truly recognizing and defending real human rights by stopping the unjust executions of over a billion innocent defenseless people.

    If that terrorizes you, then you should ask yourself why.

  • prochoiceferret

    The pro-human rights movement is about truly recognizing and defending real human rights by stopping the unjust executions of over a billion innocent defenseless people.

    No, actually, it’s about dismissing and attacking the human rights of pregnant women by forcing them to carry to term whether they want to or not. If you were a pregnant women, and you didn’t want to be pregnant, you would realize this pretty quickly.

    If that terrorizes you, then you should ask yourself why.

    Because forcing women to remain pregnant when they don’t want to be is barbarism. I (and most women) would like to live in the 21st Century, thank you very much, not the 1st.

  • crowepps

    If that terrorizes you, then you should ask yourself why.

    It isn’t your opinions that give rise to terror — it is your enthusiastic adoption of terrorist methods.  Many fringe organizations, unable to convince the general public of their case, descend to terroristic methods in order to extort concessions but to date they have all failed.  The addition of terroristic methods pushes them even further into the fringe as the general public rejects their blood-soaked message, the moderates abandon them, and their remaining adherents are self-selected for fanaticism and psychosis.


  • crowepps

    Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work

    1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.

    2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.

    3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to assault her.

    4. If you are in a lift and a woman gets in, don’t assault her. You know what? Don’t even ogle her.

    5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not assault her.

    6. Never creep into a woman’s home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or assault her.

    7. When you lurk in bushes and doorways with criminal intentions, always wear bright clothing, wave a flashlight, or play “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)” by the Raveonettes on a boombox really loud, so women in the vicinity will know where to aim their flamethrowers.

    8. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from assaulting women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you when in public.

    9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to assault a woman, you can hand the whistle to your buddy, so s/he can blow it to call for help.

    10. Give your buddy a revolver, so that when indifferent passers-by either ignore the rape whistle, or gather round to enjoy the spectacle, s/he can pistol-whip you.

    Don’t forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don’t pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be assaulting her later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.

  • betty-brown

    thank you for posting that – i NEVER get tired of reading that list of true sexual assault prevention tips.  


     "truth?  is truth unchanging law?  we both have truths, are mine the same as yours?"