Gender-Based Violence, Both Cause and Consequence of HIV and AIDS

Date: 4 August 2008

Mexico City — Thoraya Ahmed Obaid and Inés Alberdi, Executive Directors of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, respectively, co-chaired a session Sunday [at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City] on the links between gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. Ms. Obaid told participants that gender-based violence can be both the cause and consequence of HIV and AIDS.

The session, “From Acknowledgement to Action,” focused on intensifying the response to the twin pandemics of violence and HIV, and provided opportunities for the panel of experts to highlight programmatic learning, evidence-based advocacy, and strategic policy interventions.

Ms. Obaid told participants that gender-based violence can be both the cause and consequence of HIV and AIDS. For many women, gender-based violence is a reality both in times of peace as well as in times of war. “We are talking about domestic violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking or kidnappings and rape as war strategies,” said Ms. Obaid. “Violence against women is the most brutal evidence of gender inequality.”

However, the world has come a long way in terms of acknowledging the effects of the AIDS epidemic on women. As Ms. Alberdi pointed out, “The good news is that since the International AIDS Conference in Toronto [2006], the way in which violence against women and the fear of such violence fuels the HIV/AIDS epidemic is increasingly recognized and addressed.”

Panellists presented programmes, studies and policies from a range of countries, including India, Mexico, Nicaragua and South Africa, as a way to compare and analyse gender inequalities linked to the epidemic. They emphasized the need to include men in prevention efforts in order to achieve an effective response to both the medical and social scourges.

Male roles that call for men and boys to be tough, aggressive, sexually dominant, and risk-taking are often associated with behaviours that increase men’s risk of contracting HIV. Such behaviours include having a high number of sexual partners, using drugs or alcohol, and refusing to seek medical care for sexually transmitted infections.

Studies indicate that the risk of acquiring HIV is higher among women who have been exposed to violence than those who have not. Violence against women is an obstacle to prevention efforts: it often prevents women from getting tested and limits their access to prevention and treatment. Hence, it also prevents them from making informed decisions about their health and their future. In many cases, victims of violence are afraid or unable to negotiate condom use.

Ms. Alberdi noted that much more needs to be done and said that “tackling this problem requires coordinated action by individuals, communities, governments and the international community.”

“Therefore, it is crucial that we are here today to analyse this problem. We need to share lessons learned so that we can improve our response to HIV and AIDS,” Ms. Obaid concluded.

For more information, contact Trygve Olfarnes, UNFPA, olfarnes[at], or Nazneen Damji, UNIFEM, nazneen.damji[at]