Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

Violence & HIV/AIDS: Violence against Women and Girls as a Cause and Consequence of HIV/AIDS

Academic journal article Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy

Violence & HIV/AIDS: Violence against Women and Girls as a Cause and Consequence of HIV/AIDS

Article excerpt


The worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic has had and continues to have negative effects on human development. In parts of the world that have been most affected by HIV infections, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the epidemic has had the devastating effects of reducing life expectancy, reducing productivity, deepening poverty, decimating populations, increasing levels of dependency, weakening institutional structures, and undermining national systems. (1)

The grave consequences of HIV infections extend beyond the individuals living with the virus, as HIV/AIDS affects their families and greater communities. (2) Specifically, women, as primary caretakers of families and communities, and as frequent subjects of stigma, discrimination, violence, and unequal access to health care and medication, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. (3)

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS estimated that 30-36 million people worldwide were living with AIDS in 2007. (4) Globally, women constitute approximately 50% of individuals living with HIV/AIDS. (5)

Women in some countries and in certain age groups are disproportionately affected by the HIV virus. (6) Globally, 95% of daily new infections occur in developing countries, (7) and approximately 45% are among young people 15-24 years of age. (8) It is estimated that, worldwide, young women are 1.6 times more likely to be living with HIV/AIDS compared to young men. (9) In sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute nearly 60% of HIV infections, (10) and 75% of HIV infections in the 17-24 year-old age group. (11) In parts of southern Africa, young women are 4-5 times more likely than young men to be infected with HIV. (12)

The research statistics consistently reveal women's disproportionate vulnerability within the broader HIV/AIDS epidemic, (13) and there is a parallel growing body of research that attributes such vulnerability to specific risks faced by women. (14) Of these identified risks, the underlying risk of pervasive gender inequalities rooted in many cultures, which manifests in violence against women and girls, has been recognized to increase the susceptibility of women to HIV/AIDS. (15)

Violence against women and girls and HIV/AIDS are co-existent epidemics that have devastating health and development consequences, (16) and their relationship is best understood as a bi-directional and mutually-reinforcing one. Violence against women and girls causes HIV infections, and it is also a consequence of HIV infections. (17)

This Note focuses on the epidemic of violence against women and the epidemic of HIV/AIDS as two mutually-reinforcing epidemics. The Note identifies and examines the network of major factors within the twin epidemics: the biological nature of men and women; experiences of sexual violence; having intimate partners; the practices of condom use; history of childhood sexual abuse; having multiple sexual partners; engaging in sexual relations with older men; and the disclosure of HIV serostatus.

The Note further addresses violence against women and girls in times of armed conflicts. Due to the unique nature of conflict settings and its implications on risk factors associated with violence against women and girls and HIV infections, this is done in an independent section. In the final section, the Note proposes some policy recommendations based upon its findings.


Worldwide, women and girls are placed at elevated risks for HIV infections due to exposure to violence. (18) In studies conducted in South Africa, Rwanda, and Tanzania, women who had been victims of violence were up to 3 times more likely to contract the HIV virus than women who had not experienced violence. (19)

The significant connection between the violence against women and girls epidemic and the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been well-established, but the network of causal or temporal links between the two is complex--including considerations such as biological, socio-cultural, economic and behavioral factors, structural and institutional factors, health consequences, and policy and development implications--and not yet understood in its entirety. …

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