What Does “Knowing Your Status” Mean for a Survivor of Gender-Based Violence?

Young women and adolescent girls account for a disproportionate number of new HIV infections. In 2016, new infections among young women aged 15–24 were 44 percent higher than young men their age. Women who experience gender-based violence face 50 percent greater risk of HIV infection. Globally, 7,500 young women acquire HIV every week.
November 30, 2018

In March, we told you the story of Lerato, who, after experiencing sexual violence, was caught in a web that restricted her access to comprehensive services because referral and case management systems were absent. This summer, we proudly endorsed the 2018 Gender 360 recommendations, which call for positive development of youth of diverse gender identities and an examination of the intersections of gender equality, education, health, economic empowerment, and gender-based violence prevention and response.

On December 1, as we observe the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day and reflect on the theme of “know your status,” we ask what knowing your status means for children, adolescents, and adults who experience gender-based violence.

Gender-Based Violence and HIV – A Dual Epidemic

Decades of collective global action have made significant progress. Today, millions of people living with HIV are leading healthy and productive lives. However, persistent gender inequalities remain core drivers of the epidemic, and women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV in many regions. Today, women constitute more than half of all people living with HIV, and AIDS-related illnesses remain the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age.

Young women and adolescent girls account for a disproportionate number of new HIV infections. In 2016, new infections among young women aged 15–24 were 44 percent higher than among young men their age. In eastern and southern Africa, young women make up 26 percent of new HIV infections, despite comprising just 10 percent of the population. Globally, 7,500 young women acquire HIV every week.

The link between HIV and gender-based violence is well-documented. Individuals infected with HIV, especially women and girls, are at increased risk for gender-based violence as a result of their status, and those experiencing gender-based violence face greater risk of HIV infection—more than 50 percent greater, according to UNAIDS. This intersection has created a dual epidemic that remains unyielding.

Men and boys also experience gender-based violence. Key populations and children are at especially high risk, yet often do not have the resources to facilitate their recovery and break the cycle of violence. These disparities are the result of biological, structural, and sociocultural conditions, as well as stigma and discrimination that affect men and women differently and impede access to resources that can prevent or respond to gender-based violence.

Safety and Agency Are Needed to Know Your Status

Through programs such as the Transform: Primary Health Care project in Ethiopia and AIDSFree in Sub-Saharan Africa, EnCompass is co-creating stronger community networks and supporting governments and community service providers—in health, law enforcement, legal, and psychosocial services—to link survivors to care that includes knowing their HIV status. Our work with donors, partners, and communities facilitates conversation and reflection and helps transform social constructs that put women, girls, boys, and others at increased risk of gender-based violence and HIV infection. And through programs such as ADVANTAGE, we are training USAID staff around the world to design, implement, and evaluate stronger programs that increase gender equality, prevent and respond to gender-based violence, and provide HIV care and treatment.

Much work remains. In endorsing the Gender 360 Summit recommendations, we acknowledge, with 17 other organizations, the need for concerted, collective efforts to ensure all the world’s Leratos get the respectful, rights-based support they deserve. For EnCompass, this includes shining a light on the inextricable link between gender-based violence and HIV. Please join us on this World AIDS Day in committing to transform harmful gender norms and practices that foster violence and inequality and increase the risk of HIV, creating a world of safety and agency so individuals can know their status.


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About the Author

Lyn Messner is EnCompass' Director of Gender and Inclusive Development, and serves as EnCompass...

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