Sexual and reproductive health

Violence against women and HIV

Violence against women and HIV

Violence against women (VAW) and HIV/AIDS are major public health problems that adversely affect sexual and reproductive health. They intersect with each other in important ways. Research exploring these intersections in countries in different regions of the world documents an undeniable link between VAW and HIV infection. This involves multiple pathways, either directly through rape/sexual assault or indirectly through fear of violence and difficulties for women in controlling and negotiating safe sex and condom use. Violence in childhood may also increase sexual risk behaviour and thereby risk of acquiring HIV.

Evidence shows that HIV can also be a risk factor for violence since disclosure can put women at risk of violence by their partners, family or community members. Drug use is another common dimension of both phenomena, and can also serve as risk factor or outcome of experiencing violence or HIV infection. Additionally, vulnerable populations, particularly sex workers, may face increased risks, and require special attention.

A review of tested strategies for addressing violence against women and HIV shows promising possibilities for reducing the occurrence of both and developing strategies for prevention and to support those affected. Results of this review also show that any long-term solution to VAW and/or HIV prevention requires addressing the social context and the gender inequalities that form a core element of this.

Programmes and policies should address the underlying social and economic issues, gender inequalities and harmful gender norms and apply a human rights focus. At the same time, there is a need to develop services, such as comprehensive post rape care that responds to the physical and psychological health needs of violence survivor, and testing and counselling services that address VAW.

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