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Violence and HIV

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Background:

Since women are more susceptible to HIV infection than men overall, it’s not surprising that women dealing with violence in their lives are at the highest risk of all. Multiple factors put women in violent situations at increased risk of becoming infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These include:

Biological factors:

  • Bleeding or tearing of the vaginal or rectal area from forced sex creates passageways for HIV to enter the bloodstream, thus facilitating infection.
  • Women are already at least twice as likely as men to contract HIV from unprotected sex, in part because semen carries more HIV than vaginal secretions.
  • Vaginal membranes are exposed to infectious fluids for hours after sex. Younger women are at highest risk because of the immature cervix is more vulnerable to damage.
  • Even in optimal circumstances, STIs are less symptomatic and therefore less frequently treated in women than in men. Battered women may have reduced access to STI screening and treatment services because a violent partner may not want them in contact with health care providers. Untreated STIs pose serious health risks on their own and also heighten a woman’s chances of becoming HIV infected, if exposed.

Psychological Factors:

  • People who lived through childhood sexual abuse may engage in more high-risk sexual behaviours as adults and may be less able to refuse sexually aggressive partners that those who weren’t abused.
  • Upon disclosing their HIV status, people living with HIV may be at risk of domestic violence, abandonment or violence from members of their community. Unfortunately, attitudes of blame, fear and stigma are still prevalent in many communities and are sometimes played out in violent acts against people known or suspected of being HIV positive.

Economic factors:

  • Lack of access to fair-wage jobs, minimal work experience or education, isolation, discrimination, deprivation of property rights, etc. are just some of the factors that can render women economically dependent on their partners. This dependency that can render a woman unable to leave a violent partner or family.
  • The power imbalance created by economically dependency and violence can also leave women unable to “negotiate” condom use or to abandon partners who put them at risk.

Cultural factors:

  • Many societies around the world expect women to be faithful even when men are not. A woman’s partner puts her at higher risk of HIV when he has multiple sex partners.
  • In many cultures, girls are discouraged from learning about their bodies and sex and are taught to regard their bodies as the property of men (fathers, boyfriends or husbands). Under culturally enforced ignorance, powerlessness and the threat of violence, women experience little or no control over when and how sex happens in their lives and may see sexual decision-making – including condom use – as the domain of men.

There is no magic solution. Violence against women is fuelled and perpetuated by the complicated, entrenched social factors make up the whole framework of gender inequality – less education, less access to good paying jobs, lack of adequate legal protection from abuse and rape, lack of access to health care. All these contribute to making women more vulnerability to both violence and infection. All these need to change.

Women living with domestic violence or violence in their communities struggle to regain control over their own bodies and futures and to protect and provide for their children while also protecting themselves. A microbicide could help protect women in abusive relationships from HIV (and possibly other sexually transmitted infections) thus reducing the potential burden on their already compromised physical and psychological well-being. A contraceptive microbicides could also prevent unplanned pregnancies. Since women in violent relationships are less likely to be able to negotiate contraceptive or condom use, microbicides could offer them a valuable alternative means of protection.

Advocacy Tools:

To access the Factsheet on Violence, HIV, and microbicides in different languages, please check out our download resources

PowerPoint Domestic Violence Module: Please feel free to download this module and include it in any presentations about HIV, Violence, and microbicides. If you save the file, you can also go to "View" and then "Notes pages" to see a script that accompanies the slides. PowerPoint (138 KB)

Educational Resources:

For more information and access to educational resources about the linkages between violence against women, HIV and microbicides, please see:

16 days of Activism against Gender Violence link

Stop Family Violence link

Global Coalition on Women and HIV/AIDS: link

UNIFEM Gender and HIV/AIDS Web Portal: Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS webpage - Provides lists of resources related to violence against women and HIV/AIDS. link

World Health Organization Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS webpage: link

Gordon, Peter and Kate Crehan for UNDP HIV and Development Programme. (2000) “Dying of Sadness: Gender, Sexual Violence and the HIV Epidemic.” link

United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). “HIV/AIDS and Violence Against Women” from Picturing a Life Free of Violence: Media and Communications Strategies to End Violence Against Women. pdf

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Population Reference Bureau (PRB). (2002) Gender-based violence and reproductive health & HIV/AIDS: Summary of a technical update. pdf

World Health Organization. (2000) Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS: Setting the Research Agenda. pdf

Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, intersections of violence against women and HIV/AIDS, Yakin Ertürk, 2005 -- OHCHR, 61th session. pdf