No end to HIV without an end to GBV

Violence, or the threat of violence, is a lived reality for many South African women, children, and men. Between April 2014 and March 2015, over 65 000 sexual offences were reported to the South African Police Services, and over 264 000 new applications were made for interim protection orders with the Department of Justice in terms of the Domestic Violence Act. Whilst these statistics don’t always give a picture of who was reporting the crime, and many women never report violence against them, what they do point to is a significant culture of domestic and sexual violence.

The 16 days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children takes place annually from November 25th (The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) and December 10th (International Human Rights Day). This period also covers World AIDS Day on 1 December, which is appropriate given the strong links between HIV and gender-based violence (GBV). JPS Africa works with women at critical junctures in their lives including working with pregnant women, new-born babies and their mothers, teenagers, and children but also men. Each of these points provides an opportunity for intervention and awareness raising.

According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNWOMEN), GBV and HIV have strong links for the following reasons:

  • Violence or the threat of violence in a sexual encounter can prevent women from negotiating safer sex, and thus can result in unprotected sex;
  • Rough sex or rape can damage genital tissues and the vaginal walls, making exposure to the virus more likely;
  • When children are exposed to violence, including domestic violence, from a young age they are more likely to commit violence themselves;
  • Children who are sexually abused are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior as adults;
  • Harmful traditional practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation also increase the physical vulnerability to contracting the virus;
  • Abusive men are more likely to have multiple concurrent sexual partners;
  • Fear of violence can be a barrier for women to disclose their HIV status or to have an HIV test; and
  • Violence, or the threat of violence can prevent women from seeking medical attention and HIV treatment.


Women in violent relationships are therefore more likely to contract the virus if their partner is infected, and less likely to be able to seek treatment. South African legislation provides for people who have experienced rape or sexual violence to access Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, in order to prevent HIV infection. However, it is well-known that many women do not report sexual violence, or seek medical treatment, hence increasing the risk that they will become HIV positive.

Ending GBV is critical to ending the spread of HIV, as well as to ensuring that HIV positive women and children are able to access the treatment they need. Whilst assisting with direct HIV related services, JPS Africa is perfectly positioned to begin to address the social and cultural norms that make violence against women more likely, and to make sure that their service users are aware of their right to be free from violence.




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