In the session “Women’s
Rights Equals Women’s Lives,” at the International AIDS Conference, advocates and researchers came together
to discuss the twin pandemics of gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV.
Researchers Charlotte Watts from the London School of Hygiene and Claudia
Garcia-Marcos of the World Health Organization, noted that while the
body of evidence on direct biologic linkages between HIV and GBV is
limited, the evidence we do have demonstrates an extremely strong correlation
between the two. Not only does the evidence tell us that women
who experience gender-based violence are more likely to be at risk for
transmission of HIV, but we also know that many of the risk factors
for gender based violence are the same as those for HIV — including
gender inequities, poverty, lack of financial independence and lack
While the risk of HIV from gender-based violence
is often limited to a discussion of the risk of rape as a transmission
factor, Watts stressed that there are many forms of gender based violence
beyond rape, including perpetration by an intimate partner (spouse,
boyfriend, etc.) rather than a stranger.
Other panelists discussed the
implications for GBV among specific populations, namely sex workers,
people living with HIV/AIDS and men and boys. For sex workers,
violence, not only from partners, but also perpetrated by the state,
is a particular issue in HIV prevention, treatment and care. Policies
that promote brothel raids and detention of sex workers contribute to
violence and can cause sex workers to lose their homes, interrupt their
ARV regimens and shatter any security they might have.
Panelists agreed that interventions
to fight these two pandemics must be complex and long-term. Policymakers
must remove laws that criminalize sex work or same-sex relationships
and must work to change gender perceptions and increase accountability
for the perpetration of violence. Part of this change in perceptions
can be brought about through comprehensive sexuality education.
Importantly, these interventions should not be limited to the HIV arena
but should involve domestic violence, women’s rights and other advocates.