Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director, UNIFEM
Its true extent is unknown, owing to fear of reprisal for reporting, refusal
by authorities to recognize, or knowledge that nothing will be done. However,
WHO estimates that nearly one in four women will be raped, beaten, coerced into
sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime sometimes with fatal consequences.
On 25 November, the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women,
people around the world are coming together to condemn this universal crime
In the context of HIV/AIDS, and in situations of war and conflict this daily
reality of violence against women intensifies and becomes especially deadly.
Almost half of all people living with HIV/AIDS today are women, approximately 17
million. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is more than half and young women age 15
to 24 are at least three times as likely to be infected with HIV than are young
men. A decade ago, women seemed peripheral to this pandemic, now, they are at
Violence against women is both a cause and consequence of rising rates of HIV
infection: a cause because rape and sexual assault pose a major risk factor for
HIV transmission, and consequence because HIV-positive status makes women more
likely to be targeted for abuse. Often, the perpetrator of violence is an
intimate partner. Deeply rooted in unequal power relations, sexual violence
occurs because women cannot negotiate safe sex or refuse unwanted intercourse.
Violence is tied also to the brutality of war, where women's bodies have
become part of the battlefield. The systematic rape of tens of thousands of
women by warring factions has dramatically increased the HIV-infection rates in
conflict zones, leading to the destruction of women's lives and the shattering
of families and communities.
Yet when a woman discloses that she is sero-positive she may be attacked or
ostracized because of the stigma that is brought on the family. Pregnant women
often are tested for HIV at prenatal clinics and therefore more likely to be
diagnosed than their male partners. As a result, they are accused of being the
source of HIV transmission. And, because women are less likely than men to
receive treatment, they are also more likely to die.
In the context of 25 November, UNIFEM, through the Trust Fund to Eliminate
Violence against Women, is awarding grants to 24 initiatives, in 30 countries,
totalling US1.8 million. As we announce these grantees, we see three major
actions needed to break this vicious cycle of violence:
- First, countries must pass and enforce laws to deter acts of
violence against women and reduce the spread of HIV. While many have strong
laws in place, these are rarely implemented effectively, reducing their
positive impact. With the help of the Trust Fund, grantees will increase
their capacity to formulate domestic violence legislation, train judicial
and law enforcement personnel to implement it and help bolster the provision
of services for victims of gender-based violence.
- Second, we must encourage women who have suffered abuse to speak out. A
life free of violence is their right. We have to break the culture of shame
and stigma so that women can share their experiences and concerns. In the
coming year, the Trust Fund will support positive women's networks to break
down the stigma and help establish solidarity groups for rape victims to
call attention to the crimes committed against them.
- Third, we must continue to raise awareness on the links between violence
against women and HIV/AIDS. The media is a key actor in this effort and
several of these Trust Fund grantees will use radio and TV programmes to
alert, to inform and to trigger change. It is also crucial to engage men and
boys in this campaign so they can be part of the solution and not part
of the problem.
All of this requires the commitment of resources. Ending violence against
women, like other pandemics, cannot be done on the cheap. The Trust Fund
illustrates the need: of more than 1,000 proposals submitted this year, only 24
could be supported. At the 2005 World Summit, heads of state and government
emphasized that progress for women is progress for all and committed to
eliminating discrimination and violence against women. Today, UNIFEM is calling
on world leaders to honour these commitments and come together to support the
Trust Fund. The successful strategies that we support every year must be scaled
up, making the leap from good practices to standard practice. As a
member of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, we also ask that you help us
use the Trust Fund to leverage our knowledge and action to break the vicious
cycle between violence and HIV/AIDS.