Die Quietly: How AIDS Kills Africa's Battered Women
August 22, 2003
Of the 29.4 million HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 58 percent are women and girls, according to UN estimates. A new report by Human Rights Watch says that domestic violence needs to be addressed as an issue that contributes to contracting HIV.
African women are often in subjugated marriages with no economic or legal independence; HIV-infected spouses beat them and force them to have unsafe sex. Vulnerability to HIV is heightened by cultural perceptions of women's sexual and reproductive obligations, paying a bride price, and unequal property and child rights that can make it impossible to leave an abusive marriage, the report states. Husbands may have several wives and lead promiscuous lives outside marriage.
Lisa Karanja, the report's author, wrote that it is crucial for governments to enact laws to prohibit discrimination against women. She recommended that land acts provide for spousal co-ownership, widows be allowed to inherit, and marital rape be recognized.
Karanja's report, "Just Die Quietly," focuses on Uganda, which has been held up as Africa's example of an AIDS success story. HIV prevalence there has dropped greatly in the last decade due to a government campaign. She believed if she could prove a link between domestic violence and HIV/AIDS in Uganda, the implications for the rest of the region would be frightening. She quoted the UN secretary-general's envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, who in 2002 described the disaster as "annihilating a gender." "The toll on women and girls is beyond imagining," he said.
Karanja believes that changing laws in only part of the battle. Africa needs more shelters, social education and legal assistance for battered women. A sound legal framework could pave the way for those changes.
"If tradition is subjugating and trying to harm someone," said Karanja, "we have to change it. We have to evolve, we have to be progressive."
08.18.03; Fiona O'Brien
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.