Violence Against Women & HIV

By Jackie Foord, CEO, YWCA EdmontonJackieHeadshotClose

Last week was another busy week. Most weeks are, but last week seemed busier than usual.  Part of that is the upcoming holidays, but the social activism calendar is jam-packed right now, with days of action and awareness for a variety of causes and issues. Two of those days of action and awareness are on my mind today.

December 1st is World AIDS Day.  That day is meaningful to me.  We’ve all lost so many good people to HIV and AIDS and years later, the stigma and misinformation continues to make life difficult for so many. I did my small part to honour those people by volunteering with HIV Edmonton that day.

December 6th is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. As the CEO of YWCA Edmonton, you can imagine that our organization is heavily involved in events that day. YWCA helps women and children cope with, and recover from, the trauma of living with or leaving violence.

As I think about those two events and those two causes, I was struck by the connection between them.

The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed violation of human rights on earth. Over half of Canadian women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime. Violence can be sexual, physical, financial and emotional, but regardless of the form it is all degrading and dehumanizing.

Imagine being a woman in a violent relationship. You’re scared for your life. You are scared for your kid’s life. You don’t have the option of refusing sex. You aren’t able to negotiate condom use. You certainly can’t ask him if he has other sex partners.  In a healthy relationship, you could broach any of these topics. In a violent relationship, raising them may cost you your life.

Women who contract HIV while living in violence are not likely to disclose it. The fear of more violence, abandonment and losing your children means you stay quiet. But not disclosing deprives you of the right to access treatment. And if you become pregnant, without proper medical treatment, there is a greater possibility that you will transmit the virus to your child.

The cycle is as vicious as it is violent.

Getting to Zero new infections is an achievable goal; however the unique circumstances presented by women who are in violent relationships make the goal more challenging.

So what can we do? The simple answer is – end violence against women.  Many cities and even countries have thoughtful and bold strategies to eliminate major issues such as poverty and homelessness and they have made meaningful progress. Perhaps, it’s time to create and commit to implementing a comprehensive and bold strategy to end violence against women. Doing so would change the lives of women, and it would make the goal of Zero new HIV infections that much more achievable.

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