BY SHARON SITATI
The issue of Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and its negative impact on women’s reproductive health, including the risk of HIV infections, has become a major concern. Although some survivors of SGBV may choose not to report the crime due to the bystanders’ silence or the likelihood of the case being dismissed due to lack of evidence or corruption, a research study by Afrobarometer suggests that most citizens (79%) believe that the police will take GBV cases seriously. However, when survivors see that the reported cases are dismissed, it discourages others from reporting the crime. The WHO reports that the physical and psychological effects of SGBV include musculoskeletal, soft tissue, and genital injury, trauma, mental disorders, and substance abuse. Furthermore, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV infections are also high in cases of sexual violence.
Women who have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) are 1.5 times more likely to be infected by HIV/AIDS than those who haven’t experienced IPV, according to the WHO. Additionally, young women aged 15-24 are eight times more likely than men to be HIV positive in Sub-Saharan Africa, where violence against women is prevalent. A report by UNAIDS suggests that every week, 4900 young women between the ages of 15-24 are infected by HIV globally, with 6 out of 7 new HIV infections among adults aged 15-19 being girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The limited information on preventive measures for violence and limited multi-sectorial coordination and monitoring mechanisms increase the health risks. The United Nations recommends a multi-sectorial approach to interventions between HIV and GBV, including understanding and influencing knowledge, attitudes, and practices of men and women, improving services, reducing barriers to support and treatment, and laying the foundation and contribution of research. A unified response to SGBV is essential, with universal access to violence prevention and intervention being the key to reducing HIV infection rates and unwanted pregnancies caused by sexual violence.
Finally, the advocacy and strategy makers for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) should provide a guide in integrating Sexual and Reproductive Health with HIV and GBV prevention and intervention services. By targeting the whole community, including women, children, and young people, with HIV prevention, care and treatment interventions, SGBV, HIV, and SRH needs can be addressed effectively.