Gender Based Violence Drives HIV Epidemic Among Women: US Study

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large

Washington DC, US – One out of every four people living with HIV in the US is a woman according to a new study by the University of California, San Fransisco (UCSF). Further, it is estimated that 30 percent of women living with HIV in the country experience post traumatic stress disorder compared to 5,2 per cent in the general population.

The study has broad implications to efforts to turn the tide against the AIDS epidemic across the world in that its expected to shape the discussion on the impact of violence on women’s vulnerability to the disease.

“Women are dying unnecessarily. They can live with HIV, but are dying from the effects of violence in their homes and communities. HIV policies and programmes must prevent and address the effects of gender based violence that weave through women’s lives,” said Gina Brown, a woman openly living with HIV.

 

According to the study, which focused on approximately 6,000 women living with HIV, intimate partner violence is a disproportionately high cause of death for HIV positive women in the US.

The study concluded that traumatized  women fare worse in AIDS treatment more than women who have not suffered traumatic stress. Trauma also puts women in situations where they are more likely to spread the virus.

“For a long time we have been looking for clues as to why so many women are becoming infected with HIV and why so many are doing so poorly despite availability of effective treatment. This work clearly shows that trauma is a major factor in the HIV epidemic among women,” said Edward Machtinger, Director of the Women’s HIV Programme at UCSF in an interview.

Specifically, the study demonstrated that HIV positive women who report recent trauma had more than four times the odds of experiencing virologic failure, a situation where the HIV virus becomes detectable in the blood despite being on antiretroviral mediations.

The study also revealed that women who had suffered recent trauma were almost four times more likely to have had sex with someone without the virus or whose HIV status was unknown to them, and to not always use condoms with these partners.

“Women who report experiencing trauma often do not have the power or self-confidence to protect themselves from acquiring HIV. Once infected, women who experience ongoing abuse are often not in positions of power to effectively care for themselves or to insist that their partners protect themselves. Effectively addressing trauma has the potential to improve the health of HIV positive women and that of the community.”

Lack of HIV Prevention Services for the Displaced

The power of education in fostering a better and effective response to HIV and AIDS is undeniable.

Education promotes knowledge and with knowledge about HIV and AIDS, individuals, families and communities have the ability to make informed choices about their behavior.

However, governments and international donor organizations often underplay this important intervention, particularly in the emergency phase of the cycle of displacement, says a report recently issued by UNHCR and UNESCO on the importance of education to populations that find themselves victims of displacement due to conflict, disaster or other emergencies.

Education can play a key role in helping refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) cope with the negative excesses of their circumstances, such as ignorance, exploitation, violence and the risk of HIV infection.

Many factors combine to put IDPs and refugees at the risk of HIV infection, including loss of livelihoods, lack of access to basic services, poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, and violence. Continue reading

How Menstruation Curses Young Girls to the Margins

The natural process of menstruation comes as a big problem to women and girls in many parts of Africa, contributing to both disempowerment and health risks. For young girls, menstruation is an addition to the heap of gender disparities they have to face in life.

In order to stem the flow of monthly periods, the women and girls use anything from rags, tree leaves, old clothes, toilet paper, newspapers, cotton wool, cloths or literally anything that can do the job. Most girls from poor, rural communities do not use anything at all.

Menstruation is perhaps one of the most regular individual female experiences, but in sub-Saharan Africa, the experience impacts general society negatively due to the absence of products required by women and girls to cope with menstrual flow.

To state it bluntly, menstruation has become like a curse not only to the women and girls but to society in general on the continent. Because menstruation is largely a private act, the social damage is hidden and never makes the news headlines. Also, there are cultural and social attitudes that render discussion of menstruation almost impossible.

Affordable and hygienic sanitary protection is not available to many women and girls in Africa, and governments have done very little to address this reproductive health issue which has serious public health consequences.

In sub-Saharan Africa, millions of girls, in particular, that reach the age of puberty are highly disempowered due to the lack of access to sanitary wear. Many of the girls from poor families cannot afford to buy sanitary pads.

Hence they resort to the use of unhygienic rags and cloths which puts them at the risk of infections. Some of the girls engage in transactional sex so that they can raise the money required to buy sanitary pads, putting themselves at the risk of HIV and STI infection.

Alternatively, young girls are forced to skip school during the time they experience monthly periods to avoid both the cost of pads or use of cloths.

UNICEF estimates that one in 10 school-age African girls either skips school during menstruation or drops out entirely because of lack of sanitation.

“Less-privileged girls and women who represent substantial percentage in our contemporary Africa will continue to suffer resulting to school absenteeism and also compromising their right to health care,” says Fredrick W. Njuguna, Program Director of Familia Human Care Trust in Kenya.

A girl absent from school due to menstruation for 4 days in 28 days (a month) loses 13 learning days equivalent to 2 weeks of learning in every school term.

It is estimated that within the 4 years of high school the same girl loses 156 learning days equivalent to almost 24 weeks out of 144 weeks of learning in high school.

Consequently, a girl child potentially becomes a “school drop out” while she is still attending school. In addition, the girl child has to deal with emotional and psychological tension associated with the menstrual process.

To make matters worse, according to Familia Human Care Trust, many schools in underprivileged areas lack sufficient sanitation facilities which are vital not only during a girl’s period but at all times generally such as water, adequate toilet facilities and appropriate dumping facilities for sanitary wear.

As a result, menstruating girls opt to stay at home due to lack of facilities to help them manage their periods than go to school.

For orphaned girls, the prospect of coping with bodily changes can be a significant challenge because they have no-one to turn to for information or advice. In addition, due to the use of improper methods to contain their menstrual flow, young girls may develop bodily odors that will lead to social exclusion within peer groups thereby impacting negatively on the young girl’s confidence.

The need for affordable sanitary wear for women and girls in Africa is indeed a major public health issue that governments need to prioritize in their planning.

On the other hand, there is need for social innovation around this issue because the need for sanitary wear among girls and women will forever be there, at least in the long term future.

The bottom line is that no girl child must be disadvantaged by the natural process of menstruation, and governments, civil society organizations and other players need to work together to ensure that the appropriate services are made available.

As it is, menstruation has becomes the undeclared basis for the social exclusion of young girls. Sanitary protection is an urgent need among women and girls and needs to be made affordable so that poor and marginalized groups can have access.

Global alliances between women in the rich and poor worlds can be a key solution to the problem of access to sanitary wear. But governments also need to recognize that ensuring women and girl’s access to sanitary wear has positive public health implications.

Access to affordable, sanitary is human right but one that is never discussed in our male dominated world. Whatever the case, the fact remains: every woman should be able to have access to the right products which can enable them to happily experience menstruation.

No woman should be cursed to disempowerment by the natural act of monthly periods.