Integrating Violence Against Women into HIV responses


By Lindiwe Makhunga, South Africa

February 23, 2011

The mutually reinforcing relationship between violence against women and HIV/Aids is one that needs to be emphasized in order for effective policy to be formulated and implemented. Attending a parallel event at the 55th CSW hosted by the Woman Won’t Wait Campaign today reminded me of the certainty that nothing is ever simple in the lived realities of women’s existences, where multiple situations and difficulties interact. Addressing the crucial link between violence against women (VAW) and the HIV/Aids pandemic, this session aimed to critically examine the ways in which VAW has been integrated in global responses to the HIV/Aids epidemic. VAW is one of the most pervasive features in the lives of women; the chances of being exposed to it in some form are significantly increased when a woman has HIV/Aids, a condition which renders her vulnerable to various manifestations of violence. On the other hand, VAW also increases the chances of a woman or girl being exposed to or contracting HIV.

In one of the most informative and relevant sessions I have attended at this year’s UN Commission for the Status of women, came the startling statistic that donor spending on HIV/Aids had decreased by 57% over the two year period from 2004 to 2006. Considering the number of men and women still affected by the pandemic, I found this worrying especially for the women of sub-Saharan Africa who make up the majority of those living with HIV/Aids in the world today. An analysis of the ways in which donor organisations such as the World Bank and USAID have mainstreamed VAW into their policies was also presented and highlighted issues around donor interests and the pushing of agendas that were in themselves harmful to women. The analysis of USAID’s PEPFAR plan provided a crucial insight into the ways in which donor funding was attached to certain country obligations on national policy that had negative implications for women such as anti-abortion and anti-prostitution policies and legislation. This session provided a lot of information that went beyond the causal relationship between HIV/Aids and VAW, and went beyond intimate partner violence and sexual offences against women. For example, it highlighted the very real threats of violence that women living with HIV/Aids face from not only intimate partners but her community at large.

What was especially compelling about the discussion was the degree to which it reflected the prevalence of violence in women’s lives all across the world and the different forms that this violence took from emotional abuse, domestic violence and sexual violations to the types of stigmatization that accompanied women who are HIV positive. The need to integrate a cohesive response to violence against women into a policy and legislation based HIV/Aids response is important for the realization of women’s rights the world over.



FEMNET (The African Women's Development and Communication Network) is a pan African, feminist organisation working to advance the rights of women and girls in Africa. FEMNET has carved a niche in Informing and mobilizing African women in order for them to participate and influence policies and processes that affect their lives. FEMNET has hundreds of members in over 40 countries in Africa as well as in the diaspora. It has played a critical role in building the women's movement in Africa since inception in 1988.

One response »

  1. The challenge with HIV/AIDS in Africa is that from the get-go, they focused on the wrong thing. Yes, it is important to deal with the medical aspects of the disease, the social stigma after people have contracted HIV. But these are the easy aspects – or the easier aspects to deal with. The approach needed to focus on why the disease is so endemic. And that would inevitably have led donors, governments, international agencies and civil society movements to take responsibility for violence, particularly violence against women, and focus on the whys, hows, wheres that inform violence against women. But responding agencies at all levels have been more content to talk about violence than actually roll up their sleeves, jump in and bring an end to it. Why get frustrated when you choose to treat only the symptoms and let the disease fester. Dealing with the symptoms does not cure the disease, yet this has been the global approach to HIV/AIDS. So as the coffers dry up and money is moved on to the next sexy thing, many women deal with exactly what they were dealing with 10 years ago – violence, patriarchy and HIV/AIDS.


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