The AIDS epidemic has created a devastating human tragedy through out the world and especially it selectively targets people in their most productive years. The report released by UNAIDS in early this year reveals an alarming increase in the number of women with HIV/AIDS, reflecting the greater vulnerability of women to HIV/AIDS. The report further says that worldwide, 17.3 million women aged 15 years and older are living with HIV. Three quarters (76%) of all HIV positive women live in sub-Saharan Africa, where women comprise 59% of adults living with HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly three out of four (74%) young people aged 15–24 years living with HIV are female. In Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, an increasing proportion of people living with HIV. Women currently represent 30% of adults living with HIV in Asia. India is experiencing rapid and extensive spread of HIV. As per UNAIDS 2006 report, approximately 700,000 children become infected with HIV and 95 percent of children got the infection from their mothers.
This increasing vulnerability of women and girl children to the HIV/AIDS virus is mainly due to various forms of violence against women be it sexual or physical at homes, work place, on the streets as well as schools and other educational institutions. Some of the various forms of violence that women face every day includes,
- Violence in the family: Battering by intimate partners, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape and female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women.
- Violence against female children in educational institutions: Sexual abuse of girl students in the schools/colleges,
- Violence against women in the community. Trafficking, forced prostitution and forced labour fall into this category, which also covers rape and other abuses by armed groups.
- Violence against women at work place: This includes rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and assault.
- Violence against women perpetrated by the state, or by "state actors" – police, prison guards, soldiers, border guards, immigration officials and so on. This includes, for example, rape by government forces during armed conflict, forced sterilization, torture in custody and violence by officials against refugee women.
These forms of violence against women increase the vulnerability to HIV infection. Studies in South Africa and Tanzania show that women who have been subjected to violence are up to three times more likely to be HIV-infected than women who have not experienced violence. The situation in India is even worst. Greater rate of violence has been witnessed against women at every level which in turns contributes to the increasing rate of HIV infection among them. The lack of awareness against the pandemic due to increasing school drop out by the girl school goers because of absence of safer education environment was seen as one of the important risk factors.
In several occasions in which school teachers and principals have sexually abused girl students have come to light. The cases in point are the 2005 rape case of a school girl by the principal in north Delhi, the 2002 municipal school incident and various such incidents all over the country.
With these concerns in mind, I would like to address the human rights dimension of HIV/AIDS and urges governments to address the specific recommendations listed below;
- Enact and enforce laws that prevent violence against women.
- Ensure that national AIDS plans integrate strategies to reduce violence against women, and link violence prevention efforts with mainstream HIV prevention and treatment services.
- State should ensure the social and economic empowerment of women.
- A safe, respectful and non-discriminatory education environment must be ensure to the school goer girls.
- Promote girls’ education and women’s literacy though economic measures to ensure girls stay at school. Make equal access to primary and secondary education for girls a priority.
- Review HIV/AIDS policies from a perspective of gender to ensure that all forms of gender discrimination are eliminated and women’s human rights are protected and promoted.
- Enable access to prevention, treatment and care for people affected by HIV/AIDS.