By Rebecca Harshbarger
Monday, March 8, 2010
Violence against women and girls blocks progress in every major development target, finds an Action Aid report released today, International Women's Day.
Violence has also derailed global campaigns against HIV-AIDS, where the face of the pandemic is increasingly female.
Over 17 million women are living with HIV and an estimated 7,000 new women are infected daily. Among young adults in sub-Saharan Africa, three-quarters of those with HIV between 15 and 24 years old are female.
Action Aid's research finds the systematic abuse of women's rights has fueled the spread of HIV-AIDS on the continent.
Whether it comes to negotiating condom use or refusing to have sex at all--as in Kalokoh's case--gender inequality makes women much more vulnerable to HIV infection.
Conversely, a woman's ability to assert herself can be her protection.
Kalokoh, for instance, decided to join a women's anti-violence forum supported by Action Aid, which is how the organization and its partners heard her story.
At those meetings, Kalokoh says, members of the forum told her that if her husband inflicts violence, she can report him to the Family Support Unit at her local police station. She says she has warned her husband of the consequences of continuing to hurt her and now the beatings have stopped.
"If he does begin to mistreat me, I will not only leave him, but report him to the police," she said.
In the report, Zohra Moosa, a women's rights advisor for Action Aid, says women's organizations have drawn attention to the violence women face in all stages of their life, but concrete remedial action is still scarce.
The agency, which was based in the United Kingdom from 1972 until it moved to South Africa in 2003, hopes its research and call for action will push Great Britain to appoint a minister on women and girls and make ending violence against women more of a foreign policy priority.
Moosa, who works in the group's London office, says violence against women is still too often seen as a private matter--hidden in the sanctity of a mother or daughter's home--or an aberration of war.
"It's getting more recognition in the area of conflict, but there's an idea that it's something extreme. But it's much more mainstream, much more normal," she said.
Around the world, about 1-in-3 women face violence in settings such as home, work and school.
Rebecca Harshbarger is a journalist. She started a media company called Africa Connections that connects African immigrants with independent news from their land. The company's pilot site recently launched at www.ugandansabroad.org. You can follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/rebeccaugust.
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