By Mabel Bianco, MD, MPH, Epidemiologist. President of Fundación para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer (FEIM) and representative of Latin America and the Caribbean on the UNAIDS PCB NGO Delegation, discusses violence against women and its link to HIV and shares some initiatives her organization is promoting in Argentina to highlight and combat this issue.
Images created by young artists from a poster exhibition organized by FEIM
Since 1992 women’s activists have carried out the 16 Days of Activism to build awareness and remember that Gender Violence is the principal violation of women’s rights. The 16 Days of Activism start on November 25, which marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and last until December 10, which marks International Human Rights Day. In the middle of this is the World AIDS Day, incorporated as another key date for women’s sexual rights.
It is in the intersection of these emblematic dates, which contribute the visibility and recognition of human rights and women’s rights, that we draw attention to the often silenced link between HIV and violence against women and girls.
Violence against women is a leading factor in the “feminization” of the HIV epidemic globally. HIV/AIDS is higher among women who have experienced violence and when they continue to experience it while living with HIV this has a negative impact on their ARV treatment due to the emotional problems it causes.
Violence against women and girls is the most frequent, silenced and unpunished type of women’s rights violation. The gender inequalities in intimate, family and social relationships interact with other variables such as age, income, education, ethnicity and sexual orientation to exacerbate women’s subordination and vulnerability to gender-based violence and coercion and to HIV. Women’s subordination reduces their ability to negotiate condom use or refuse sex even in intimate relationships.
Violence against women is a global problem that affects women of all ages, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, and is rooted in the power inequalities between men and women which are based on cultural values and norms that maintain women’s subordination to men. Violence against women is considered as something “natural” in many cultures, which impedes it from being recognized as a human rights violation. This represents one of the main obstacles to eliminating violence against women and girls and so reducing women’s vulnerability to HIV.
Women and girls bear the brunt of the twin epidemics of gender-based violence and HIV, both of which affect their ability to exercise their rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health. The links between the two epidemics are undeniable and the effects of their interrelation continue to threaten the lives of million of women and girls around the world.
The impact of both violence against women and HIV is exacerbated by inadequate services and failure to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights; punitive or discriminatory laws that negatively impact women and people living with HIV and AIDS; social and community standards that validate gender inequality and women’s subordination; and the forms of multiple discrimination faced by women and girls because of their economic status, ethnicity, sexuality and other factors.
Members of the Buenos Aires City Legislature at an event promoting the female condom
Despite growing attention to women’s empowerment, including the need to address the intersection of violence against women and HIV, programming in these areas faces chronic underfunding by governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies and major donors, which still tend to address both issues separately and insufficiently. This is a principal obstacle to the realization of women’s rights and health. To effectively respond to this critical situation, we developed several activities:
- FEIM, together with the National Network of Adolescents and Young People for Sexual and Reproductive Health (RedNac), organized a mobilization of young people in 16 cities of Argentina sensitizing the public about the link between HIV and violence against women. The leaflet “Caresses that hurt” by FEIM, which has information on where to resort to in cases of violence, was distributed.
- FEIM is holding a poster exhibition in downtown Buenos Aires with images created by young artists. The images and messages are also being transmitted and disseminated through postcards and stickers.
- Participation in roundtables on HIV and violence against women in different parts of Buenos Aires on December 1st, 4th and 6th.
- Promotion of the female condom among members of the Buenos Aires City Legislature, where FEIM presented a bill that would establish the purchase and distribution of female condoms in public health services.