In 2003, the United Nation's Secretary General commissioned an in-depth study on all forms of violence against women. The results of this study, released on October 9 th , indicate that violence against women is a pervasive problem that impacts women's health, safety, and security worldwide.1
The U.N. report defines violence against women as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or violence that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.”2 This violence includes a broad range of physical assaults against women, such as sexual violence by strangers and intimate partners, female genital cutting, control over women's sexuality and reproduction, and prenatal sex selection. The U.N. report also emphasizes that despite international and regional treaties to the contrary, violence against women is often inadvertently sanctioned by states' economic and legal policies that perpetuate gender inequalities and the subjugation of women.
As the U.N. report indicates, the consequences of violence against women are grave, “Violence prevents women from contributing to, and benefiting from, development by restricting their choices and limiting their ability to act.”3 This inability of women to act can lead to increased rates of unintended pregnancy, maternal mortality, and HIV/AIDS in part because the pervasiveness of violence against women seriously obstructs women's ability to negotiate safe sexual interactions.
In fact, the World Health Organization has reported that studies from Rwanda, Tanzania, and South Africa demonstrated three-fold increases in risk of HIV among women who have experienced violence compared with those who have not.4 Forced or coercive sexual acts obviously place women at higher risk of HIV, but so do women's inability to negotiate condom use or discuss fidelity with a partner for fear of violence.5
The U.N. report also explains that women are often subjected to additional violence because of their HIV status. “Fear of violence prevents women from accessing HIV/AIDS information, being tested, disclosing their HIV status, accessing services for the prevention of HIV transmission to infants, and receiving treatment and counseling, even when they know they have been infected. Studies show the increasing links between violence against women and HIV and demonstrate that HIV-infected women are more likely to have experienced violence….”6
AIDS activists are hopeful that this report will help marshal a global response to the epidemic of violence against women and hold governments accountable for creating comprehensive HIV/AIDS programs that address the need for improved sexual and reproductive health rights for women. “The Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Women is monumental in that it boldly highlights the discriminatory social context in which all violence against women occurs,” said Lisa Schectman, Policy and Grassroots Associate of Global Aids Alliance. “The U.N. makes explicit for the first time the fact that violence against women is a violation of human rights,” continued Ms. Schectman, “many of the root causes of violence against women are the same as of HIV/AIDS—economic injustice, lack of educational opportunity, community and government apathy, and power differentials that keep women subordinate to men. Violence against women fuels the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and HIV/AIDS can fuel violence against women. We cannot hope to stop HIV/AIDS until we address violence against women.”
To read the full Secretary-General's In-depth Study on All Forms of Violence Against Women, go to http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/vaw/
To learn more about the intersection between HIV/AIDS and Violence Against Women, see the Global AIDS Alliance report: Zero Tolerance: Stop the Violence Against Women and Children, Stop HIV/AIDS (Washington, D.C., 2006) available at http://www.globalaidsalliance.org/docs/Zero_Tolerance_Advocacy_Brief.pdf
- In depth Study on all Forms of Violence Against Women: Report of the Secretary-General (New York: United Nations General Assembly, 2006) accessed 15 October 2006, <http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/vaw/>.
- Ibid., 15.
- Ibid., 22.
- Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS: Critical Intersections: Intimate Partner Violence and HIV/AIDS (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2004), accessed 15 October 2006, <http://www.who.int>.
- Geeta Rao Gupta et al., Integrating Gender into HIV/AIDS Programmes: A Review Paper (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2003) , accessed 15 October 2006, <www.who.int>.
- In depth Study on all Forms of Violence Against Women: Report of the Secretary-General, 48.