Women Won’t Wait to the G8

Susana Fried

The 2007 G8 Summit will be held next week; real commitments on the issues of violence against women and the feminization of the AIDS epidemic from member nations of the G8 are long overdue.

Does "eight" have to rhyme with "wait"?

Real commitments on the issues of violence against women and the feminization of the AIDS epidemic from member nations of the G8 (Group of Eight) are long overdue.

Women won't wait

Women's movements throughout the world have long fought for concrete action to promote and protect the human rights of all women—including the rights to be free from violence, coercion, stigma and discrimination, and the right to achieve the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health. However, this global standard is rarely translated into policy and practice. In the case of HIV/AIDS, this results in a deadly failure in policy and an abrogation of governments' and donors' accountability.

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A dangerous and dysfunctional split

To state the obvious—violence against women and girls is a major contributor to death and illness among women, as well as to a host of human rights abuses. Gender-based violence, and particularly intimate partner violence, also is a leading factor in the increasing "feminization" of the global AIDS pandemic. Simultaneously, HIV/AIDS is both a cause and a consequence of the gender-based violence, stigma and discrimination that women and girls face in their families and communities, in peace and in conflict settings, by state and non-state actors, and within and outside of intimate partnerships.

However, rather than comprehensively addressing this deadly intersection, national and global AIDS responses continually fail to grapple with its implications. Instead, separate funding and programming streams—to combat HIV/AIDS on one hand and, on the other, to eradicate violence against women and girls—mean not only that there are far fewer resources allocated to efforts to address violence as a cause and consequence of HIV infection, but also that the strategic imperative for integrating these efforts continues to suffer from a dangerous, dysfunctional and ineffective split.

Calling on the G8: accountability and action

Leaders of the world's wealthiest countries have committed to dramatically scaling up HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support with the goal of coming "as close as possible" to universal treatment access by 2010. This national and international commitment to universal access is crucial to reversing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

However, despite lofty promises made by governments and the international community, the amount of dedicated funding to addressing the deadly intersection of violence against women and girls and HIV/AIDS remains negligible or impossible to trace. Only in rare instances have states fully committed to grappling with women's human rights in relation to violence or HIV/AIDS. Equally rarely have donors and other multilateral agencies created structures of accountability in terms of the extent, quality and impact of their funding in service of respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of women and girls. Among donors, the level of funding for efforts to address gender-based violence remains small and often marginalized, while the integration of violence against women programming in the much larger pot of funding for HIV/AIDS is inadequate and hard to trace.

Show us the money

In March 2007, the Women Won't Wait campaign launched the publication of Show Us the Money: is violence against women and girls on the HIV donor agenda? (PDF). This report looks at the policy, programming and funding patterns of the five largest public HIV/AIDS donors—the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the U.S. President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); the UK Department for International Development; and the World Bank—and, as a key agenda-setting agency, UNAIDS. Key findings included:

  • The agencies examined in the report continue to treat gender-based violence as an "add-on" rather than as integral to all aspects of their work on HIV/AIDS.

With the advent of PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, for example, funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, support and care has increased dramatically in the past five years. For all of the donors examined, however, the scant funding made available for gender-based violence efforts is largely a separate stream from, rather than integral to, programs to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. Meanwhile, as the Association for Women's Rights in Development has documented, levels of funding for women's rights work can best be described as "dismal."

  • Violence against women and girls is rarely highlighted as a major driver and consequence of the disease, nor measured statistically as a means of contributing to the evidence base.

And, as a result, strong statements of policy concern "evaporate" at the level of implementation.

  • It is nearly impossible to determine the precise amount of money contributed to work at the intersection because none of these donors publicly track their programming for and funding to violence eradication efforts within their HIV/AIDS portfolio.

But, as World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan put it "what gets measured gets done."

See the Women Won't Wait campaign call to action, Women Won't Wait to the G8 (Word document).

Additional resources:

Harvard School of Public Health, Program on International Health and Human Rights, HIV/AIDS and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Literature Review (PDF).

Cynthia Rothschild, Mary Anne Reilly and Sara A. Nordstrom, 2006. Strengthening Resistance: confronting violence against women and HIV/AIDS (PDF).

WHO/UNAIDS/UNICEF, Towards Universal Access: Scaling up priority HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector, Progress Report, April 2007 (PDF).

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