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Jendy McDonald | Gender-based violence: A driver of the HIV/AIDS epidemic

Published:Monday | February 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Abuse can take many forms, including: emotional, sexual, physical, financial or social harm
Abuse can take many forms, including: emotional, sexual, physical, financial or social harm
Jendy McDonald

Gender-based violence (GBV) and the roles assigned to both women and men are central to the spread of HIV. It is therefore critical for us to not only acknowledge this fact, but also to introduce and promote a journey towards healthy and life-giving relationships. The gender scripting with which people have been raised may render them more vulnerable to HIV infection.

For instance, in many places, girls are raised to be subservient and submissive to men. They are often left without control over sexual choices. Boys are raised as the 'machos' of society, encouraged to be dominant in relationships and sexual decisions.

To have multiple relations is a sign of manhood and power. Both sexes are thus made more vulnerable in an era of HIV. The particular vulnerability of women must be understood and acknowledged.

Biological, behavioural and social factors contribute to the increased vulnerability of women particularly young women to HIV infection. For example, the emerging evidence connecting the rapidly expanding HIV epidemic and gender-based violence, particularly among young women.







"It is widely recognised that gender-based violence is both a cause and a consequence of HIV transmission," said, Nyaradzayi Gumboynzvanda, general secretary of the World YWCA.

Gender-based violence is a universal and global issue that harms men, women and children in their most private spheres. Gender-based violence is violence based on your gender. In most cases this entails that a man abuses a woman; however the opposite also happens. Gender-based violence refers to a range of harmful customs and behaviors against girls and women, including intimate partner violence, domestic violence, assaults against women, child sexual abuse and rape.







The main cause of gender-based violence is power inequality, where one group sees itself as more important and powerful than the other. Gender-based violence generally derives from cultural and social norms that imbue men with power and authority over women. At its deepest, it is caused by one individual or group not viewing someone else as being equally created in the image of God. The power balance in gender relations is unequal, in that it favours men. This translates into an unequal balance of power in heterosexual interactions.

In many cultural and religious settings, there is an entrenched tendency to uphold the norm that men are vested with authority over women. So, a woman should always submit to a man, whether in a family setting or national organisational structures. In some contexts the decisions by women are disregarded, as women are not allowed to give guidance or tell others how to behave. They are often regarded as followers. Men often abuse authority by exercising power over women.

In addressing the annual Lenten Lecture of Trocaire in 2007, Jesuit Father Michael J. Kelly, raised the following: "No response to the AIDS epidemic will succeed until specific, strong action is taken to eliminate the prejudice, discrimination and unequal treatment that women experience...Without a frontal attack on the injustice of gender inequality in church, state, and every walk of life, the dominance of the epidemic will continue."

Like a powerful spotlight, the epidemic reveals this weakness in almost all societies where a legacy of systematic discrimination against women is embedded in social, economic, political, religious and linguistic structures... "The central HIV issue is not technological, biological, behavioural or sexual. It is the inferior status or role of women."




Gender-based violence often becomes visible through abuse, which is any form of behaviour that causes:

- Fear

- Bodily harm

- A person to do things against his/her will

Abuse can take many forms, including: emotional, sexual, physical, financial or social harm. Abuse might change sexual decision-making, and influence drug and alcohol use.

Physical abuse includes: assault, murder/attempted murder, public harassment, traditions (e.g. "ownership").

Sexual abuse includes: forced/child marriage, forced prostitution, rape (including in marriage), corrective rape, female genital mutilation (FGM).

Psychological/emotional abuse includes: Denial of basic needs, prevention of education, physical threats, verbal insults, restrict movement, abandonment.

Other types of abuse includes: honour killings, kidnapping, human trafficking, and denial of economic freedoms.

Gender-based violence is a serious risk factor which must be acknowledged and addressed if prevention strategies are to have any meaningful effect. There should be zero-tolerance for abuse of any persons - girls, boys, men, women and even little children - whether it occurs in the home, in institutions, on the streets, in the church, in schools, in police stations, in prisons, in refugee centers or in the area of conflict /war.

In the article, 'Culture, Gender & HIV/AIDS: Understanding and acting on the issues', Musa W. Dube, professor of the New Testament at the University of Botswana, states the following: "If we are going to be part of the solution in seeking to reduce and finally eradicate the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS on our continent, we must fully understand what gender is. Gender is a complex issue that works with and through all social departments, it pervades every aspect of our lives. We are, in other words, always socially constructed as men and women in our various cultures, in our politics, government, schools, churches, villages, cities, work places, homes, conversations, and in our beds making love.

The present gender relations require all of us as women and men to interrogate ourselves; admit that we are part of the problem and to change some of the dearest aspects of our lives. It requires us to interrogate the very things that we have always taken for granted. It requires us to interrogate our frames of reference, our values, our ways of life. It requires us to admit that these need to change and that no one will change them for us, but rather we must change them ourselves! It requires us to give up something in order for us to gain lives - in order to save our country, to save our children, indeed, to save the world."

- Jendy McDonald is an AIDS Educator with Positive Impact Ministries and a 'Channel of Hope' Facilitator with AIDS Link International, South Africa. Email:;