16 Days: Evidence from the Stigma Index on HIV and Gender-based Violence
Denitza Andjelic, Evaluation Officer
Damaging gossip, harsh stares, aggressive remarks, exile. These are just a few forms of stigma and discrimination regularly faced by people living with HIV. A growing body of evidence has shown that women living with HIV/AIDS often face an increased risk for gender-based violence.
In partnership with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the Global Network of People Living with HIV, and the International Community of Women Living with HIV, the International Planned Parenthood Federation developed the Stigma Index to document and measure the ways people living with HIV are stigmatized in order to make policies and programs more responsive to the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS. The goal is to use the research to improve social programs and make recommendations for policy change.
A recent study led by IPPF/WHR Member Association PROFAMILIA highlighted the issues faced by women in the Dominican Republic who are HIV-positive. Implemented in four main areas of the country (Santo Domingo, Cibao, Southeast and Southwest), the researchers interviewed 1,000 people living with HIV, 51% of whom were women. Although men and women living with HIV had a much higher unemployment rate than the general population, women were more than twice as likely to be unemployed than men and suffered more discrimination in 10 of the 12 categories included in the Index.
This report also revealed that HIV-positive women are frequently victims of physical, sexual, and emotional violence, particularly by their partners. Significant numbers of women shared that, in the previous 12 months, they had been physically abused (42%) or had experienced sexual violence (22%) from their partners. In terms of emotional abuse, almost a third (31%) reported that they had been verbally or physically humiliated by their partner, and 24% had been threatened with physical harm to themselves or someone close to them.
Comparing this evidence to information on the general population revealed a startling finding: more than half of the HIV-positive women (53%) had experienced some kind of physical abuse since the age of 15, a number that is more than twice the rate for the general population in the Dominican Republic. Similar evidence has emerged from Stigma Index studies in other regions.
The issue of gender-based violence experienced by women living with HIV is not seriously considered by global health agencies and donors such as the World Health Organization. However, the facts remain that many women lack decision-making power in their intimate relationships and face limited choices about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Gender inequality also results in women having fewer opportunities to earn income, which results in their having less control over economic resources and a harder time escaping abusive intimate partners. These inequalities are exacerbated by HIV.
Efforts such as the Stigma Index have increased awareness of the violence experienced by HIV positive women, but much remains to be done to ensure that all people, regardless of their HIV status, have the opportunity to live healthy, just, and violence-free lives.