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AIDS Worsens Violence Against Women

A new report says that “unless violence against women and children is addressed, the multi-billion dollar response to HIV/AIDS is bound to fail.” The Global AIDS Alliance released the report Thursday at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto. The report, entitled Zero Tolerance, says, “Comparatively little attention is being paid to the urgent need to scale up programs that address violence against women and children.” VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua has details.

The report, entitled Zero Tolerance, says, “Comparatively little attention is being paid to the urgent need to scale up programs that address violence against women and children.”

Lisa Schechtman is the lead author of the report.

“Up to 30 percent of women in the world report that their first sexual experience was forced or coerced. That means they’re not choosing to lose their virginity. They’re actually experiencing that loss of a precious choice by violence. In some places more than half of school children experience sexual or physical violence while they’re at school at the hands of their classmates or their teachers. And some studies have found that women who experience violence are up to three times more likely to acquire HIV than women who do not.”

She says like HIV/AIDS, violence is taking place on an epidemic scale fueling the pandemic. She says at this moment there are two choices.

“We can sit by and let the violence continue or we can take the opportunity provided to us by AIDS to make a difference and stop the violence while we work to stop AIDS.”

Mary Wandia, an activist with ActionAid International, says many African women experience violence throughout their lives.

“We go through violence in peace time. We go through violence in conflict. And we go through violence in post conflict situations.”

She says the ABC approach to AIDS prevention, Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms, does not work when a woman is raped.

And as for the hope of an effective microbicide, which would help women protect themselves from HIV during sex, Wandia asks:

“How am I going to be able to have time to use the microbicide if somebody is raping me? How is a small girl going to have time to use microbicides when she’s facing violence on the way to school, when she’s facing violence in school?”

She says the violence continues even after the rape. For example, thousands of women who were raped and infected with HIV during the 1994 Rwandan genocide are shunned by their families, disinherited and lack access to any property.

Anne-Christine D’Adesky is head of the group We-Act, Women’s Equity in Access to Care and Treatment. The organization helps Rwandan women affected by HIV/AIDS.

D’Adesky is an author and filmmaker. She visited a medical NGO in Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where victims of violence were treated for fistula. Fistula is a hole or rupture often caused during difficult childbirth, resulting in the uncontrolled leaking of urine or feces. But a fistula can also be caused by violence.

“They have two wards there. And every week they give a surgical operation for fistula for eight to ten women. These women have been systematically raped to the point where more and more the warring groups have attempted to really leave their marks on these women’s bodies. And bottom line I found a number of women I interviewed that simply cannot heal. They have been so severely and brutally mutilated and tortured that it is impossible for these surgical interventions to work.”

She describes how these women attempt to cope.

“Women are resorting to using plastic bags to hold their feces and their urine because we are not providing colostomy bags to them.”

Global AIDS Alliance Executive Director Paul Zeitz is calling for the launch of a worldwide campaign to stop violence and women and children.

“We’re calling based on our estimates for at least
$2 billion per year to be spent on a focused effort on combating violence against women and children.”

The Zero Tolerance report says a holistic approach is needed, including reforms in the health, legal and education sectors, as well as political commitment and a mass marketing effort for social change.

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