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The Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-related Health Disparities

On Friday, May 25, 2012, the New Orleans office of Women with A Vision (WWAV) was allegedly attacked by arsonists.  WWAV is an organization run by women of color who work with women marginalized by poverty, illness, HIV status, homelessness, and gender based health disparities.  The office was completely destroyed.

Organizations like WWAV are a much needed resource in our local communities.  At the end of 2010, it was estimated that out of the 34 million adults worldwide living with HIV and AIDS, half are women.  In the U.S., women of color, particularly black women, have been particularly impacted and represent the majority of new HIV and AIDS cases among women, and the majority of women living with the disease.  In fact, black and Latina women currently make up over 80 percent of the epidemic among women but only 12 percent and 14 percent  of the U.S. female population respectively.  Women are at greater risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV, yet research suggests that women with HIV face limited and disparate access to care relative to men.

The correlation of gender-based violence and the transmission of HIV cannot be ignored.  Women and girls are all too frequently victimized by domestic violence and sexual assault which can lead to greater risk for acquiring the disease.  At the Office on Violence Against Women, we know that nearly 1 in 4 women report being subjected to severe physical violence by an intimate partner and that nearly 1 in 5 women in the U.S. have been raped at some time in their lives.  Most victims are first raped as girls or young women: approximately 80 percent of female victims experience rape before the age of 25 and almost half experienced their first rape before age 18.  Rape increases vulnerability to contracting HIV because a condom is not likely to be used and any vaginal tearing increases the likelihood of transmission of the virus.  The social stigma associated with being HIV positive may inhibit women and girls from seeking essential prevention, treatment, and health services, including services to address the violence that they experienced.

Today – more than ever – we recognize and want to bring attention to the intersections between HIV/AIDS and violence against women.  The tragedy in New Orleans offers fresh evidence and insight into this regrettable fact.  It is our responsibility to reach out to and engage all communities – particularly those that have been traditionally underserved or, as appears to be the case in New Orleans, are the targets of violence and hate. 

President Obama established a Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-related Health Disparities, that is co-chaired by the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women and the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.  The Office on Violence Against Women is a proud partner in this important effort.  We are committed to better understanding and addressing these intersecting issues, and through this new working group we will be taking another step forward in our efforts to reduce violence against women.