New Report Finds: International Agencies Fail to Address Violence Against Women in HIV/AIDS Programs
New Coalition of Women's Groups Critiques Programs and Policies of U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Global Fund, UNAIDS, Others
Women Won't Wait, a new international coalition of women's groups, launched its campaign to end HIV and violence against women with a new report released today: "Show Us the Money: Is Violence Against Women on the HIV&AIDS Donor Agenda?"
Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and one of the speakers at the launch of the campaign, said that the twin epidemics of HIV and AIDS and violence against women cannot be disentangled.
"It is vital that the policies, programs and funding streams of national governments and international agencies transparently address the intersection of HIV and AIDS and violence against women," Robinson said. "At the same time, civil society must hold both governments and agencies accountable to promoting human rights and the self-determination of women, as this coalition seeks to do."
The new study finds that leaders in the fight against AIDS have failed to consistently and adequately address the relationship between violence against women and HIV. Recent findings from a 10-country study conducted by the World Health Organization confirmed that violence against women is widespread, and that between 13 percent and 61 percent of women in the countries surveyed had experienced sexual violence and coercion at the hands of husbands and intimate partners. Moreover, HIV-positive women face high levels of violence. For example, though many women contract HIV from their husbands, within marriage, they are often blamed for infections when their positive status becomes known. Violence is, therefore, a cause and a consequence of the rapid spread of HIV among women, who now represent at least half of those infected worldwide and more than 60 percent of those infected in sub-Saharan Africa.
The report evaluates the policies, programs and funding patterns of the major international agencies engaged in responding to the global AIDS epidemic, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM); the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID); the World Bank; and, as the key agenda-setting agency in the field, UNAIDS (The Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS).
The report's author, Susana T. Fried, an expert on gender and sexuality issues, said that while funding for HIV and AIDS programs has increased dramatically in the past five years, none of the agencies had successfully integrated efforts to address violence against women into their HIV programs. Meanwhile, programs to promote women's rights and to meet the basic reproductive and sexual health needs of women have been dwindling rapidly.
"For all of the agencies we examined, the scant resources for gender-based violence efforts are largely separate from, rather than integral to, programs to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS," Fried said.
Some experts interviewed for the report agreed with this conclusion. According to Mark Blackden, Regional Gender Coordinator/Lead Specialist for Africa at the World Bank, "Even among those who are on the frontlines of tackling AIDS in the worst-hit region of the world, gender is an afterthought."
For example, the report includes a critique of PEPFAR. It finds that while PEPFAR specifically allocates funding for violence against women and girls, the overwhelming emphasis on abstinence programs under PEPFAR'S "ABC" approach (Abstain, Be faithful, appropriate use of Condoms) fails to recognize that in certain countries where HIV is prevalent, faithfully married women are at highest risk of infection. The report further finds that, like other agencies examined, PEPFAR fails to translate its own policy rhetoric into concrete programming.
"The U.S. claims that it is promoting a 'comprehensive' approach to HIV prevention," said Jodi Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity. "Instead, however, programs on the ground promote 'abstinence-only-until-marriage' even in settings where the majority of women are being infected within marriage, and often fail to teach safer sex practices at all, even to sexually active older adolescents and married persons in their 20s and 30s at immediate risk of infection. To be comprehensive, strategies for abstinence, behavior change and safer sex practices have to be taught simultaneously to all individuals at risk."
"Women and girls of Africa are pawns within the ideological battle underway in the United States," said Lori Michau of the Uganda-based women's rights group Raising Voices. "We must demand that universal principles of human rights, scientific evidence, and common humanity guide the formation and implementation of U.S. government policy-not political and religious ideology."
Khuat Thu Hong, co-director of the Institute for Social Development Studies in Hanoi, added that in Vietnam, where sex work is legal, "Women are now more likely to contract HIV from their partners than through prostitution or injecting drug use."
The study is the first in a series of initiatives to be undertaken by the campaign to monitor the funding, policies, and programs of international agencies and national governments, and to push for the creation of specific, measurable, and transparent means to integrate the problem of violence against women into global HIV/AIDS programming.
To download a copy of the Executive Summary, visit www.womenwontwait.org