Maria de Bruyn is the Senior Policy Advisor for Ipas.
"Gender-based violence and HIV: making the connection" was the theme for an evening satellite meeting convened by the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) and the ATHENA Network. Chairs Sofia Gruskin of Harvard University and Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland now with the Ethical Globalization Initiative, invited panelists from Africa, North America and Latin America to speak about intersections between gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV. Other delegates then offered information on approaches they used, challenges they faced and ideas about how to move forward.
Awino Okech (Mother Tongue, South Africa) called on those present not only to address HIV infection resulting from domestic and sexual violence, but also violence in response to women's voluntary or involuntary disclosure of their positive HIV status. She also asked for honesty in addressing the fact that some women become positive because they, like men, choose to have extramarital relations; a focus on sexuality needs to be added to our analyses.
Claire Thiboutot (Stella, Canada) and Lydia Mungherere (ICW, Uganda), were joined by audience members in highlighting the double problems faced by sex workers in countries as diverse as Canada, Laos and Uganda. They not only suffer domestic and sexual violence from clients, law enforcement personnel, bosses and intimate partners, but also find it difficult or impossible to report such crimes because gender-based stereotypes and discrimination imply that they "cannot" really suffer violence since they are "only whores."
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Arely Cano (ICW Nicaragua) added that women need to stop accepting – and transmitting to their children – gender norms that reinforce male dominance and women's subordination; Lynde Francis (ICW, Zimbabwe) added that monogamous women who are infected by their spouses need to recognize such HIV transmission as a form of violence and a breach of their marriage contracts, which were supposed to offer them additional protection. Charlotte Bunch (Center for Women's Global Leadership, United States) commented that these experiences indicate that we must develop solutions by combining knowledge and wisdom gained in the fields of sexual rights, human rights, violence against women and HIV; this will require willingness to acknowledge and work on various stigmatized issues. An audience member pointed out that this is also pertinent with regard to services for survivors of violence. For example, Ipas-Brazil has worked with hospitals so that women are not required to press charges to "prove" they have been raped in order to be offered post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (if they are not already HIV-positive), emergency contraception or safe legal abortion if they are pregnant as a result of the assault.
Mary Oduka of Irish Aid pointed to the need to also work with men to change the gender-based discriminatory norms that innately condone violence against women. In Uganda, men have worked with drinking groups that now exert peer pressure on their members to prevent them from beating their wives and going out unless they have ensured that their family has had sufficient food that day. Audience members also suggested that a new network of female Health Ministers be expanded to include female ministers from other sectors (Education, Justice, etc.) to develop prevention and service approaches from a multi-sectoral perspective.