In Stephen Lewis’s talk (this talk will be cited ad nauseam in future articles, because, yes, it really was that good), he cited gender violence as a key issue that needs to be addressed in order to solve the problem of AIDS. On the surface, it would appear that gender violence plays a role by transmitting HIV directly, that is through forced intercourse. However, on further analysis, the relationship between HIV and gender violence is much more complex. The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS and the World Health Organization have released a comprehensive bulletin outlining the role of gender violence and the spread of HIV.
Aside from direct transmission, gender violence facilitates the spread of AIDS, by essentially limiting a woman’s options and self-efficacy. Violence against women, more often than not, is carried out by men that are known to the women and are, in fact, usually the partners of the women. The threat of violence looming over a relationship can hinder a woman’s ability to negotiate with her partner. Women who are abused are less likely to be able to insist upon condom use as a condition of intercourse with their partners. Such a request is often answered with further violence.
Abused woman are less likely to be able to access HIV/AIDS resources including HIV testing. A request for money or permission to get tested can result in violence as it can be construed as a sign of infidelity on the part of the woman or as an insult to the man. A woman who is faithful to her husband/partner would not need testing and to imply that the man’s extramarital activities could have garnered him HIV is not usually well-received.
To add to the risk, men who are abusive towards their partners are also more likely to engage in sexual activities outside of the relationship and to be infected with sexually transmitted infections. Abusive partners tend to be older than the women. This age difference not only sets up a situation for inequity within the relationship, but also means that these older men are likely to have more sexual experience and therefore, would be at a greater risk of HIV infection.
Gender violence also has consequences for the way a woman views herself. A history of violence predisposes a woman to make riskier sexual choices. This is particularly true for younger woman. The earlier that a woman experiences sexual violence in her life, the earlier she will become sexually active.
The consequences of gender violence are complicated and impact many parts of a woman’s life. Because of its widespread effects, gender violence must be addressed if AIDS is to be curbed. However, there is no simple answer. Solutions need to address many spheres including gender equality, the economy, and education systems among others.