By Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director, UNIFEM
Date: 25 November 2005
Occasion: 25 November: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Violence against women is the most pervasive violation of human rights, occurring every day, in every country and every region, regardless of income or level of development. Its true extent is unknown, owing to fear of reprisal for reporting, refusal by authorities to recognize, or knowledge that nothing will be done. However, WHO estimates that nearly one in four women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime — sometimes with fatal consequences. On 25 November, the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women, people around the world are coming together to condemn this universal crime against women.
In the context of HIV/AIDS, and in situations of war and conflict this daily reality of violence against women intensifies — and becomes especially deadly. Almost half of all people living with HIV/AIDS today are women, approximately 17 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is more than half — and young women age 15 to 24 are at least three times as likely to be infected with HIV than are young men. A decade ago, women seemed peripheral to this pandemic, now, they are at its epicentre.
Violence against women is both a cause and consequence of rising rates of HIV infection: a cause because rape and sexual assault pose a major risk factor for HIV transmission, and consequence because HIV-positive status makes women more likely to be targeted for abuse. Often, the perpetrator of violence is an intimate partner. Deeply rooted in unequal power relations, sexual violence occurs because women cannot negotiate safe sex or refuse unwanted intercourse.
Violence is tied also to the brutality of war, where women's bodies have become part of the battlefield. The systematic rape of tens of thousands of women by warring factions has dramatically increased the HIV-infection rates in conflict zones, leading to the destruction of women's lives and the shattering of families and communities.
Yet when a woman discloses that she is sero-positive she may be attacked or ostracized because of the stigma that is brought on the family. Pregnant women often are tested for HIV at prenatal clinics and therefore more likely to be diagnosed than their male partners. As a result, they are accused of being the source of HIV transmission. And, because women are less likely than men to receive treatment, they are also more likely to die.
In the context of 25 November, UNIFEM, through the Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women, is awarding grants to 24 initiatives, in 30 countries, totalling US$1.8 million. As we announce these grantees, we see three major actions needed to break this vicious cycle of violence:
All of this requires the commitment of resources. Ending violence against women, like other pandemics, cannot be done on the cheap. The Trust Fund illustrates the need: of more than 1,000 proposals submitted this year, only 24 could be supported. At the 2005 World Summit, heads of state and government emphasized that progress for women is progress for all and committed to eliminating discrimination and violence against women. Today, UNIFEM is calling on world leaders to honour these commitments and come together to support the Trust Fund. The successful strategies that we support every year must be scaled up, making the leap from "good practices" to standard practice. As a member of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, we also ask that you help us use the Trust Fund to leverage our knowledge and action to break the vicious cycle between violence and HIV/AIDS.