Violence against Women

Violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of HIV infection. It is one of the key drivers behind the increasing number of women and girls living with HIV and AIDS. Young women are especially at risk, as a result of sexual violence, trafficking for sexual exploitation, child marriage and other harmful practices. Coercive sex increases the risk of contracting the virus as a direct result of physical trauma, injuries and bleeding.

The subordinate position that many women and girls hold within their families, communities and societies restricts their access to information about sexual and reproductive health and their use of health-care services. Fear of violence makes many reluctant to be tested or treated, and inhibits their capacity to negotiate safer sexual practices.

Women living with HIV may be marginalized, abandoned by their families or partners, thrown out of their homes, beaten, and even killed. They have faced forced sterilization and abortion, denial of treatment, and disclosure of their status to partners without their consent. Stigma prevents many from seeking even basic medical care where violence is linked to HIV.

Our Solutions

UN Women collaborates with the UN system, national AIDS councils and civil society partners on breaking the links between violence and HIV and AIDS. National AIDS action plans are one entry point—we have assisted Rwanda in integrating HIV and AIDS into its Gender-Based Violence Policy and Strategy Plan, and Kenya in aligning its National Framework to Address Gender-Based Violence with HIV prevention. Our advocacy in Mozambique helped propel passage of a law with additional penalties for sexual abuse resulting in the transmission of HIV, and we are now pressing for standardized services to end violence against women.

In Bangladesh, three training centres of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training have included UN Women–sponsored information on violence and vulnerabilities to HIV in their curriculum on housekeeping, with an emphasis on overseas employment. Nearly 2,000 aspirant migrant workers and their spouses have gone through the course so far. In Tajikistan, we have helped civil society groups build service referral networks so that women living with HIV and violence can get the right combination of medical, psychosocial and other services.

Continued investments in community-driven approaches have yielded evidence to demonstrate what works most effectively in addressing intersections between violence against women and HIV/AIDS. Some initiatives are funded through the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, managed by UN Women. For example, in Liberia, where rape was widely used as a weapon during a 15-year-long civil war, a project in rural areas with high rates of HIV has mobilized local women leaders, traditional authorities, and law enforcement and health-care workers. Together, they have established safe houses and psychosocial support groups equipped to understand and respond to the cycle of HIV and violence. Local judicial officials have reported an upswing in the number of cases of rape being reported, including with enough evidence to convict perpetrators.

The UN Trust Fund has partnered with Johnson & Johnson and community leaders, service providers, and women’s and men’s groups on a multi-country initiative to develop strategies addressing violence against women and HIV/AIDS. A series of global workshops have convened these constituencies to share knowledge, and form country teams to apply new information and skills. In Swaziland, for example, UN Women has funded the country team to implement an action plan devised at a workshop, including through the formation of a MenEngage country network. As part of the development of a new National Strategic Framework on HIV and AIDS, the team is advocating stronger partnership with men in preventing HIV and gender-based violence. It also urges greater attention to inequitable gender norms and the adoption of a pillar in the plan specifically on gender-based violence.