The linkage between GBV and HIV


With the launch of 16 days against gender based violence (GBV) campaign by the global community this past week, it is important to remind people of the fact that the link between GBV and HIV cannot be addressed solely by narrowing the focus on women but that focus should include everybody.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an annual international campaign that starts on November 25. It is known as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on December 10, a day set aside as a Human Rights Day.

The main objective of this campaign is to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international level.

GBV is a major problem throughout the world, and the intersection between this form of violence and HIV is widely acknowledged.

Because of the association between these two issues, reducing GBV is one of the five gender strategies promoted through the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is imperative that this week I focus my attention on how GBV can directly and indirectly lead to HIV infection.

Globally, according to WHO, about one in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or non-partner.

Around 150 million girls under the age of 18 have experienced some form of sexual violence, with many never disclosing their traumatic experience.

A study conducted in South Africa found that women who have been forced to have sex are almost six times more likely to use condoms inconsistently than those who have not been coerced.

And that while men who are violent towards their intimate (female) partners have been found to be more likely to have multiple sexual partners than men who are not violent towards their partners.

It is also a well-known fact that abused women are at greater risk of acquiring HIV, and women living with HIV have more lifetime experience of violence than HIV-negative women.

While male violence against women is the most common form of GBV, other forms of GBV increase HIV vulnerability for both women and men. Many men who are infected with the virus through prison rape, sexual torture during conflicts or other sexual violence have female sexual partners.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, violence and the threat of violence can increase women and girls’ vulnerability to HIV by making it difficult or impossible to set the terms of an equal relationship.

It was also discovered that it is more difficult for women to refuse sex when in a relationship, to get their partners to be faithful, or to use a condom. Violence can also be a barrier in accessing HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. The linkages between sexual violence and HIV, especially among young women in high prevalence countries, are also well-documented.

A complete understanding of GBV requires recognition of the underlying violence that exists within masculine cultures and the vulnerability of men to HIV.

Responding to gender-based violence and HIV is a matter of shared global responsibility for social justice.

Therefore, there is a need to explore ways in which gender-based violence interacts with the HIV pandemic to leave everybody, and women in particular, vulnerable to infection, as well as to stigma, violence, and abandonment if they are infected.

Women cannot be protected against HIV if the men who infect them are not also protected. Men and LGBT must be meaningfully integrated into all efforts if there is to be a sustainable response to HIV and AIDS.

Therefore, there is a need to implement all available recommendations, as outlined by WHO and other stakeholders, for example, criminalising all forms of GBV, increase access to comprehensive sexual health programmes for most vulnerable populations (eg, sex workers, LGBT, street children) as well as avoiding gendered sexual stereotyping in HIV prevention strategies as well as promote role of men as caregivers.

December 2014
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