The Connections Between HIV and Violence against Women in a Global Environment

321316_10151395601441737_727663664_nA paper by Susanne Moore 28 January 2013

Sometimes studying sociology can be depressing, reading enormous amounts of information that usually tell a sorry tale of persistent and current inequalities against women.  With one of the biggest issues still being the use of violence (and sexual violence) to maintain and sustain a power imbalance between men and women that limits a woman’s ability to negotiate safe sex.

I thought long and hard about posting this paper, but what I have noticed since studying Sociology is that much of the information that is actually informative resides in academia and is not accessible by everyone.  It is the assessability of this information that I think will help to change our societies for the better so I have resolved to post as much as I can for others to share.  Due to copyright laws, in many cases I can’t post the full articles, but I can reference them in my own writings and this is one of those articles.

One of my current study subjects is “Gender, Power and Globalisation”, and this subject means I am wading through reams of documents with startling statistics about the intersection of violence against women and the spread of HIV AIDS.  This is information that many of us are unaware of, and whilst women in countries like Australia, the United States and United Kingdom argue that they have already achieved full parity with men, alarming statistics indicate the large majorities of women and girls in many countries are very far from equal.  Interestingly, I found some startling similarities in the way these situations arise and managed by policy makers that could apply to all of us.  Many of these women and girls are in fact, becoming more vulnerable to violence, the subordination to males and increased health risks, due largely to the increased migration and movement of people as a result of globalisation.  This vulnerability is particularly evident when it comes to HIV AIDS for women in cultures where they are not equal or lack access to education and support services.  In a journal by the United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM 2008, one author cites the following statistics;

“In its 2007 AIDS Epidemic Update, UNAIDS estimates that globally the proportion of women to men living with HIV remained stable between 2001 and 2007, although the number of those infected increased by about 1.7 million. Behind this statistic however, UNAIDS reported a complex mix of sexual realities, including HIV transmission to women from men who were infected through unprotected sex, including unprotected paid sex and/or sex with other men, and/or unprotected sex with people who use drugs.

The situation is not the same in all parts of the world.  In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 61 per cent of adults living with HIV in 2007 were women, while in the Caribbean that percentage was 43 per cent (compared with 37 per cent in 2001).  The proportions of women living with HIV in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe are slowly growing, as HIV is transmitted to the female partners of men who are likely to have been infected through injecting drug use or during unprotected paid sex or sex with other men.  In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, it is estimated that women accounted for 26 per cent of adults with HIV in 2007 (compared with 23 per cent in 2001), while in Asia that proportion reached 29 per cent in 2007 (compared with 26 per cent in 2001).13(Carr 2008; pg.4)

These figures are now somewhat old (2007), but you can speculate that if all the issues were resolved within a year of the statistics being complied, and, as a result, the incidence of HIV AIDS in women declined significantly, even today the lingering effects would be enormous.  We would still be feeling the ramifications in terms of the cost of medical support (if available) and the huge impact of this illness on a women’s ability to look after herself and her family, not to mention the loss of life and its impact on the community and families of the victims.  More notably is the connection between the spread of HIV in women and violence;

“The connections between HIV and violence against women have been the subject of a great deal of research and advocacy.  A literature review by the Harvard School of Public Health (2006) reports that:

“HIV infection as relevant to GBV [gender-based violence] is primarily acquired through sexual relations, which themselves are greatly influenced by socio-cultural factors, underlying which are gender power imbalances.  Gender based violence, or the fear of it, may interfere with the ability to negotiate safer sex or refuse unwanted sex.  Furthermore, violence against a woman can interfere with her ability to access treatment and care, maintain adherence to ARV [anti-retroviral] treatment, or carry out her infant feeding choices. Evidence also exists that living with HIV can constitute a risk factor for GBV, with many people reporting experiences of violence following disclosure of HIV status, or even following admission that HIV testing has been sought.  Thus a vicious cycle of increasing vulnerabilities to both GBV and HIV can be established.”  (p. 7)20(Carr 2008; pg.5).

This is a complex area and of course, many women take part in sex willingly and with consent, they want closeness and intimacy with their partner, but in some cases their ability to influence their partner’s sexual habits are restricted.  Often, this is exacerbated by the many cultural restraints and norms that define what it means to be a woman.  These restraints and norms often decide a woman’s access to education, information and services and their own attitude and expectations of sexual intimacy.

In many cultures, the ideal of a ‘good woman’ is one that promotes her fidelity through a union with one man.  This ideal holds that she is also someone that is a good mother and supportive wife, and the degree to which this is an issue varies from region to region and culture to culture and there are complex issues like race, financial status and religion that determine what is acceptable in the ideal of a ‘good woman’.  This ideal means that women are constantly battling with government and family expectations to control their own bodies.  This is not just a third world issue, demands are constantly made on the United States Government to introduce health reforms that degrade a women’s ability to access affordable birth control and access to abortion, reducing rights previously won by women in the past.  In addition, a woman’s right to choose is further under threat by constant objections by vocal pro-life lobbyists to current pro-choice options, requiring a watchful eye of policy formation to prevent retrograde steps that degrade women’s rights for self-determination.

In contrast, the ideal of a ‘real man’ is one where he is congratulated, and even encouraged to have multiple sexual partners, the degree of the acceptance of this norm varies from culture to culture, but can see men bringing the HIV virus uninvited into the home as a result.  Further complications arise when macho masculine ideals portrayed through violence, gambling and drinking promote a view that men need to subordinate women to prove their masculine identity.  An unequal power balance between husband and wife may see forced sex through domestic violence, in some cases, even when she already knows he is carrying the virus, she is often powerless to refuse.

“Despite research showing the strong linkages between violence against women and HIV and AIDS, it rarely finds its way into the responses to HIV and AIDS.  In Women Won’t Wait, Fried (2007) makes the case that:

Two pandemics threaten the health, lives and rights of women throughout the world: one is HIV&AIDS and the other is gender-based violence against women and girls.  Violence against women and girls is a major contributor to death and illness among women, as well as to social isolation, loss of economic productivity, and loss of personal freedom.  Research confirms that violence, and particularly intimate partner violence, also is a leading factor in the increasing “feminization” of the global AIDS pandemic, resulting in disproportionately higher rates of HIV infection among women and girls.  Simultaneously, evidence confirms HIV&AIDS as both a cause and a consequence of the genderbased violence, stigma and discrimination that women and girls face in their families and communities, in peace and in conflict settings, by state and non-state actors, and within and outside of intimate partnerships.”  (p. 1)21 (Carr 2008; pg.6)

Working environments where there is a high concentration of males can result in an increase in both HIV and violent crimes, including domestic violence.  This marginalises women who feel intimidated and controlled and reduces their input to policy decisions that might make a difference.  They become invisible, with their lived realities frequently lost on policy makers who look through a public health lens of high-risk HIV AIDS sufferers that sees women either as mothers of unborn children of as sex workers.  It frames them in a traditional female supporter role, does not assume equality and is really a value judgement from policy makers based on their own cultural values.  In a sense, unconscious bias based on the idea of what is required rather than understanding the lived realities of violence, suppression, discrimination and stigma faced by many women.  Programs that are more recent attempt to address these issues; however, the results will still take some time to prove effective.

The recipe to enact this type of vulnerability is a proven one; reduce opposition through violent suppression and intimidation, build an environment of blame, stigma and guilt, isolate by removing access to assistance, deny education and the ability to earn money, and institutionally sanction cultural discrimination and inequality and you have the potential for this same situation to happen anywhere.

 “Today Dlamini-Zuma, first woman Chair of the African Union quoted Samora Machel in her opening speech: “The emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude. The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the revolution, the guarantee of its continuity and the precondition for its victory. The main objective of the revolution is to destroy the system of exploitation and build a new society which releases the potentialities of human beings & this is the context within which womens emancipation arises. “This, and a later call by Ban Ki-moon for Africa to stand against rape & sexual violence & end impunity – were the only two times there was clapping – led by us #AUstoprape from the balcony!”

28 January 2013 – Nobel Women’s Initiative

Too many young girls walk to school in fear of violence, too many young women fear rape or death when they are simply living, attacked for no reason except that they are a female, and too many women are denied a voice simply because of their sex.

Unfortunately many more women will pay a heavy price before freedom is achieved. Whilst some men use their wonderful physical power to control and intimidate others, instead of using it to care for and work for others, women will suffer because it is not our way to take up arms to fight. Our way is to endure, to be resilient, to speak loud and long and to demonstrate the change that needs to happen.



Bales, K (2002), “Because she looks like a Child”, in B Ethernreich and B Hoshchild Global Woman, nannies, maids and sex workers in the new economy. NY, Henry Holt; pg, 207-299

Carr, R. (2008), “Walking the Walk: Closing the Programmatic and Financing Gap on Gender Equality, Violence against Women, and Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in Responses to HIV and AIDS”. In Promoting Gender Equality in HIV and AIDS Responses: Making Aid More Effective Through Tracking Results. New York: United Nations Development Fund for Women, 1-24, 40-42. 

Photograph sourced – 28 January 2013 – Nobel Women’s Initiative

2 thoughts on “The Connections Between HIV and Violence against Women in a Global Environment

  1. Bravo! Excellent post. These messages need to be kept in the public eye. It can be a slippery slope backwards even when we think the battle’s been won unless we’re paying attention.

    1. Hi Jane, thanks so much for your comment! As I said in the blog, I thought long and hard about whether to publish it or not thinking that I might be seen as a nut case feminist. I have often been labeled “a force to be reckoned with”, but after now three husbands I sometimes despair that strong women with drive, intelligence and opinions are welcomed in this world and, if there are any men out there that truly believe in equality for women. Many men that write to me agree with equality in principal but in practice are looking for a ‘nice, kind woman to share their life with’. I am concerned that this translates to “nice, according to stereotypical wife, who won’t ruffle my feathers, will be ‘kind’ and gentle to my needs – meaning don’t make me question my motives and actions, adore me and make me the center of your universe, and continue with the status quo as it stands for the rest of our lives so that I never have to confront an equal women again!”, but then that’s another article…

      It is a slippery slope and we do need to pay attention to what is happening or else the same types of intimidation and subordination can happen readily in any society, and does at a micro level on a regular basis.

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