Written by Carmen Barroso Wednesday, October 07 2009
|Partnerships for Human Security|
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Unfinished Business: Effective Partnerships for Human Security and Sustainable Development
HIV/AIDS and gender based violence (GBV) are global emergencies with a devastating impact on women’s health. Today, more than half of the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS are women. The feminization of the epidemic is caused not only by women’s physiological vulnerability, but also by gender inequality and social factors such as discrimination and low socio-economic status that limit women’s access to information, education, health care and treatment.
Infection rates are growing faster in the context of marriage and among young women. In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, young women are six times more likely to be HIV positive then men of the same age. In Honduras, AIDS is the primary cause of mortality among young women. In Sub Saharan Africa 59 percent of adults living with HIV/AIDS are women, with young women facing the highest risk of transmission. Increasingly, the face of HIV/AIDS is a woman’s face. The Political Declaration adopted by the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in June 2006 expressed deep concern by “the overall expansion and feminization of the pandemic and … recognize[d] that gender inequalities and all forms of violence against women and girls increase their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.”
GBV is also a pervasive and shocking problem with grave consequences to women’s health all over the world. Globally, “one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime; between 30 percent and 60 percent of ever-partnered women have experienced physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner; and between 7 percent and 48 percent of girls and young women aged 10-24 years report their first sexual encounter as coerced.” The proportion of women who have suffered intimate partner violence has been recorded at 11 percent in Colombia, 10 percent in Nicaragua, 17 percent in Haiti, and 23 percent in Mexico and Peru.
HIV/AIDS and GBV are linked in multiple ways. Coerced sex increases women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS by heavily reducing or eliminating the possibility of using condoms and also by causing injuries to the vaginal wall. Fear of violence from an intimate partner prevents many women from choosing if and when to have sex, as well as reduces their ability to negotiate safe sexual behaviors, such as the use of condoms.
Moreover, women who are HIV positive face considerable risk of violence and discrimination from their partners, their family, and society as a whole. This fear of violence can prevent women from seeking voluntary counseling and testing for HIV, disclosing their serostatus, and receiving adequate treatment. One study of women in four African countries found that a quarter of all HIV positive women got infected through non-consensual sex, that is, rape. Although it has been clear for some time now that HIV/AIDS and GBV are intertwined, international efforts to fight HIV/AIDS have often failed to address power disparities between men and women. GBV, one of the main risk factors for contracting HIV/AIDS, has repeatedly been ignored, severely limiting the impact of global prevention efforts.