Group addresses epidemic of violence against women
Two of the most devastating epidemics of modern time are HIV/AIDS and violence against women. Nearly 5 million people will be infected with HIV this year alone. Globally, at least one in three females will be beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. In sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia more than half of those infected with HIV are women 15 to 24 and according to a recent report by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, the violence that women and girls experience, including rape, sexual slavery, trafficking, and incest, is a major cause of the growing rate of HIV infections worldwide.
Last year the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center helped more than 2,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. But more often than not, women do not seek help because of shame, embarrassment or the belief that violence is a part of life that cannot or will not change. Homicide is a leading killer of women in the United States and a large percentage are killed by an intimate partner.
Nationally, AIDS is also a leading cause of death among women 25 to 44 and heterosexual contact was the source of almost 80 percent of reported HIV infections in women in 2003. Maxine Alper, director of client services at Sierra Foothills AIDS Foundation, which provides services to local people living with HIV/AIDS and their families, believes: “Sexual violence, abuse, and disempowerment negatively affect a woman’s self image and how she views relationships with herself, her partner and others.
This pattern can give her the perception that she doesn’t have the right to choose for her own body.”
Alper went on to say that women are often blamed for the spread of HIV, when in reality they are often powerless to prevent contracting the disease.
Traditional HIV/AIDS prevention strategies that focus on education about safe sex will not stop this epidemic because millions of girls and women do not have the power to stop a sexual assault or insist that condoms be used during consensual sex. A study in Zambia found that just 11 percent of women believed they had the right to ask their husbands to use condoms, even when their husbands were unfaithful and HIV-positive.
For many women infected with HIV/AIDS around the world, fear of stigma, discrimination or family shame prevents them from obtaining services and treatment. They have been driven from their homes, left destitute, ostracized by their families and communities, and subjected to extreme physical and emotional abuse.
AIDS activists and the movement to stop violence against women are joining forces to increase awareness of these two interrelated and indiscriminate killers. “For the Health of Women, For the Health of the World: No More Violence” was the theme of this year’s international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign.
In recognition, United Nation’s Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered a message that touched on the globally penetrating issue of violence against women and the direct connection to the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS. He said, “Let us be encouraged that there is a growing understanding of the problem. But let us also pledge to do our utmost to protect women, banish such violence, and build a world in which women enjoy their rights and freedoms on an equal basis with men.”
South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center is dedicated to improving the emotional, social, and economic condition of women and families in the community through programs and services that address domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and basic needs.
To learn more about how to stop gender-based violence in our community, contact the Women’s Center at (530) 544-2118 or visit the business center at 2941 Lake Tahoe Blvd. For more information regarding local HIV/AIDS services, contact Sierra Foothills AIDS Foundation at (530) 542-2991.
– Amy Stacy is an outreach coordinator at the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center.