Research conducted by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, revealed that half of all people living with HIV are women, and that ending gender-based violence is critical to ending HIV/AIDS. The agency said that a key part of conquering both sexual violence and HIV/AIDS is to include men in initiatives where the goal is to end violence against women and to empower them.
UNAIDS Director Mariangela Simao explained that violence against women translates to sexual violence, and like a domino effect, sexual violence can lead to women contracting HIV/AIDS. She said their research showed that in many cases, the first sexual experience for an adolescent girl is through sexual violence which often evolves into more violent acts on them.
“There are other forms of violence that could make women a higher risk of HIV infection, said Simao. “For example, in stable partnerships where domestic violence is a reality, and many times the partner has multiple partnerships outside the marriage. Also, violent contacts make it harder for women to negotiate condom use.”
The UNAIDS official noted conditions that potentially lead to sexual violence exist not just in countries experiencing ethnic and political conflicts. For example, in many cultures, violence against women is acceptable, making it difficult for women to take action against it. Victims are afraid to take action for fear of stigmatization and more violence against them. For women, a key to empowering women is education.
“Education helps, but it doesn’t mean that all women who are submitted to violence are uneducated, because that is not true. Gender equality measures, or programs put in place can help decrease the vulnerability to gender based violence and consequently, in the case of sexual violence, the vulnerability to an HIV infection,” she said.
Financial dependency is also a risk factor for women who are continually submitted to gender-based violence. That’s because they lack the opportunities to get out of the situation. It is vital that their husbands, partners, brothers and sons become a part of the solution in empowering them.
“In the case of men, we have many initiatives around the world, where men are actively involved in mending gender based violence in general,” explained Simao. “There are role models like actors, big stars, celebrities who come out and talk against gender based violence to change cultural norms to change the environment, to have attitudes to understand gender equality, and to be respectful of their partner’s or whatever situation you have with women.”
Simao said men are an essential part of the effort because women experience sexual violence from men. Involving them in the process, she says, will help men become part of the solution, and not just the problem.