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close this bookDomestic Violence Against Women and Girls (UNAIDS - Best Practice Digest, 2001, 3 p.)
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Domestic violence against women and girls

Summarised from the Innocenti Digest, No. 6, June 2000 - Domestic violence against women and girls - published by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence Italy.

For further information, contact UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Piazza SS. Annunziata, 12, 50122 Florence, Italy. Tel: (+39) 055 203 30. E-mail: Website:

This Innocenti Digest focuses on domestic violence as one of the most prevalent yet relatively hidden and ignored forms of violence against women and girls globally. Domestic violence is a health, legal, economic, educational, developmental and, above all, a human rights issue. The Digest looks at the magnitude and universality of domestic violence, and its impact on the rights of women and children. It emphasises the need for coordinated and integrated policy responses; implementation of existing legislation, and greater accountability from governments in order to eliminate this violence.

Health consequences

Domestic violence to women leads to far-reaching physical and psychological consequences, some with fatal outcomes - such as HIV infection. Sexual assaults and rape can lead to unwanted pregnancies. Girls who have been sexually abused in their childhood are more likely to engage in risky behaviour such as early sexual intercourse. Women in violent situations are less able to use contraception or negotiate safer sex, and therefore run a high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.

Domestic violence and HIV/AIDS

A forthcoming study from WHO finds that the greatest risk of HIV infection for many women comes from a regular partner, and is heightened by an unequal relationship that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate safe sex. For these women, sex is not a matter of choice.

A study of women aged 18 and over in one province in Zimbabwe found that 26% of married women reported being forced to have sex when they did not want to. It is widely acknowledged that, even when a woman is aware that her partner has other sexual partners, or is HIV infected, she may not be in a position to insist on condom use or monogamy. Most HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, however, advocate both methods. Many women would feel that any attempt to discuss such measures would provoke yet more violence.

Other studies have found that the spread of HIV/AIDS in some parts of Africa is being exacerbated by practices that see women as the 'property' of men. The tradition of wife or widow inheritance, for example, is fairly common in eastern and southern Africa. When a woman's husband dies, his wife and property are often inherited by his eldest brother.

Sexual cleansing is a more recent phenomenon, resulting from, and contributing to, the spread of HIV/AIDS. Practised with extended families in Kenya, Zimbabwe and parts of Ghana, it is based on the belief that a man can be cured of HIV/AIDS if he has sex with a young girl who is a virgin. Girls as young as eight are selected to ensure their purity.

A new approach is required that acknowledges the links between violence against women and the spread of HIV/AIDS, and translates this into policies and programmes for HIV prevention and care.