As the Human ImmunoDeficiency Virus, the cause of AIDS, continues to spread in many parts of the world, women are now said to constitute an increasingly large proportion of those infected worldwide.
This statistic has mainly been attributed to the fact that until lately, women did not have an independent method of protection by which they could help shield themselves from both pregnancy and infection of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
Violence against women and girls is defined in the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women as
... any form of gender based violence, that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life (Population Reports, 1999).
At least one in every three women in the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family. Increasingly, genderbased violence is recognized as a major public health concern and a violation of human rights. Most of these women live in developing countries and come from among the poorest in their societies. For cultural, social, and economic reasons, many of these women do not have equal status with men in society. Treatment and information are hard to come by for most women, which prevents them from making informed choices. They may be financially dependent, lack assertiveness or control over decisions that affect their own lives. They are often isolated and stigmatized within their communities (Gender-AIDS, 2000).
Violence Against Women Linked to Spread of AIDS
The United nations is concerned over growing evidence of a new link between the spread of AIDS and rising violence against women, which is only now beginning to receive the international recognition it deserves.
Peter Piot, UNAIDS chief mentioned,
[violence against women causes more death and disability in the 15-44 age group than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and even war (Deen, 2000).
He also pointed out that domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual abuse are gross violations of human rights. They are also closely linked to some of today's most intractable health issues, including the spread of HIV. Recently he said
[a]s for any problem, leadership is "key." No money can replace courageous leadership at all levels. This is not only at the top of the country, it is at every level. Success comes from sustained and comprehensive approaches on prevention, treatment, and mitigating the disease's impact (Deen, 2000).
Addressing the UN Commission on the Status of Women, Souad Abdennebi of the Economic Commission for Africa said that one of the major concerns of the African continent is the alarming increase in HIV-AIDS and its impact on the social and cultural fabric and the economic productivity of the people. In the developing world, adult mortality from HIV/AIDS is projected to reach about 40 percent by 2000. More than half the adolescents in the developing world today will die before reaching the age of 60. Abdennebi said that women, the most powerless, were the hardest hit by AIDS. (Deen, 2000)
Violence and HIV/AIDS in Developing Countries
Women have paid a great cost in Africa. Whenever they speak out about violations of their rights, they are told that they are becoming "westernized" or that they are adhering to the views of international agencies. It is disturbing that violence against women is escalating in Africa, largely due to the increasing conflict on the continent. The old forms of culturally-based violence, as well as those emerging from socio-economic disparities, are evident.
Another cause of anxiety is the exposure of African women to life-threatening illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. The women in villages are often "sitting ducks waiting to be shot" (Jewkes, PennKekana, Levin, Ratsaka, & Scheiber, 2000). …