Violence against women is cause, consequence of HIV spread

Presenting a report indicating how violence against women increases their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, a United Nations expert told the UN Commission on Human Rights that the number of women living with the disease had increased in every region.

Multiple forms of violence, such as marital rape, and harmful traditional practices, including female genital mutilation, along with male infidelity and the refusal to use condoms, heightened the vulnerability of women, Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said yesterday.

Victims of trafficking, women in the sex industry and women living in or fleeing areas of conflict were often also the victims of violence, which increased the likelihood that they could become infected with the virus.

The overwhelming majority of HIV-positive women lacked access to effective medical treatment and, in some countries, could be forcibly sterilized, or have their babies taken away, she said.

Programmes for the prevention of the pandemic and for treatment of the infected could not succeed unless unequal power structures in male-female relationships were confronted and gender-sensitive policies put in place, Ms. Ertürk said.

She recommended measures to end violence against women, address the gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS and remove the associated stigma, ensure equal access to health care, empower women for their full enjoyment of human rights and promote a global coalition against the disease.

On her country visits last year, she said, there was, in El Salvador, an atmosphere of impunity surrounded murders of women, domestic violence, sexual harassment and violence in the workplace and commercial sexual exploitation.

In Guatemala, many of the peace accord’s commitments to women, including indigenous women, were yet to be implemented, she said, and impunity also affected the increasing number of women being murdered.

Gender inequality was often more pronounced in conflicts and crises and the direct and indirect impact of security measures had brought complex consequences to women in the occupied Palestinian territories, Ms. Ertürk said.

She said she had supported referring the situation in Sudan’s western Darfur region to the Rome-based International Criminal Court (ICC) because of the national justice system’s inability to ensure accountability for crimes.

The Commission’s Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Sigma Huda, said national legislation should be changed to protect victims of trafficking. At the moment, trafficked persons were criminalized and prosecuted as illegal aliens, undocumented workers, or irregular migrants, rather than as victims of a crime, she said.

From United Nations

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