High rates of gender-based violence linked to high rates of HIV infection among women, study shows

Connection between GBV and HIV
The research hopes policymakers will understand the connection (Byron Sullivan/Pexels)

A study among survivors of intimate partner violence has revealed the dangerous relationship between gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV infection.

In her research Dr Goitseone Leburu-Masigo, a lecturer at Unisa’s School of Social Sciences, sampled 30 women from the Ngaka-Modiri Molema District in the North West. All the women, aged between 21 and 40 years, came from registered home-based organisations for women who were abused by their partners.

Published under the title ‘Urban and Rural Women’s Experience of Intimate Partner Violence’, the research found that the culture that silences women about their sexuality, also enables physical violence. With 7,7 million people living with HIV in South Africa, and one of the world’s highest incidents of GBV, the research shows how these important issues intersect.

“Sexual violence instituted against the women in various communities and within families manifest in the high prevalence of HIV and AIDS,” said Leburu-Masigo. “Women reported that their culture does not make it very easy to freely discuss sex and sexuality matters with their partners and even children.”

As a result, most women prefer to suffer in silence rather than exposing their families’ “dirty violence linen in public,” adds Leburu-Masigo.

“The apparent cultural allegiance for the participants came at a price in that their culture silenced the discussions on topics involving sex and sexuality, GBV and HIV/AIDS, including on negotiations for condom use and on practices of safer sex,” she explains.

Unequal power

The research found that the power relations in these women’s past intimate relationships was extremely unequal. Most women stated that they were much younger than their partners. Many were unemployed, making them economically dependent on their partners. This further created an environment of financial abuse.

When it came to women who earned an income, the study found that a number of them surrendered their decision-making power due to cultural pressure.

Half the participants in the survey (15) were living with their partners, nine were in civil marriages and six were traditionally married. The majority (16) of the women had acquired primary school education, while seven had obtained a high-school level of education, and another seven tertiary education.

Challenges in reporting cases

Although most women knew where and how to report incidents of violence, there were many cultural and socio-economic obstacles that prevented them from reporting or openly talk about  their experiences.

This account was reported by one of the participants in the research.

“Much as I know the Domestic Violence Act by name, I am not fully conversant with the contents thereof, except for the process of an application for a protection order which I once applied for. This act is written in English and in legal terms which makes it difficult to be understood by an ordinary person,” she told researchers.

“At the same time, the process of applying for a protection order was lengthy and not adhered to by my violent partner. I ended up abandoning the idea.”

Another participant told Leburu-Masigo that her husband threatened to leave her once she decided to take the legal route.

“With me, my lawful husband threatened to leave me should I pursue the protection order route after several violent episodes directed against me.”

A close family member of one woman says she noticed a slight improvement after a case was reported.

“A close relative of mine did apply for a protection order against her husband who was very abusive more than once. The protection order did help, though tension resulted between the couple at first, but later on the matter was resolved amicably and the beatings have since been reduced.”

Leburu-Masigo hopes her research will help social workers and policy makers create programmes that consider how the prevalence of the virus and violence are intertwined.—Health-e News


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