By Prof Miriam K. Were, member of the Champions for an AIDS-Free Generation
The right to health is an inclusive human right as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We frequently associate the right to health with access to health care and the building of hospitals. This is only partially correct for health extends further. It includes a wide range of appropriate social and economic factors that contribute to a healthy life. The well-being of everyone, female and male, is what the right to health is all about. Yet the well-being of women is often interfered with not only by disease as we know it but by the disease of violence. Violence against women is a major public health problem and a violation of women's human rights. Sadly, no part of the world is free from this disease, be it violence against women in the form of sexual harassment in Europe, marital violence in Asia or violence against women in the Middle East through political and religious laws. High prevalence of violence against women in Central and South America is perpetuated through gang affiliation. In North America, violence against women takes the form of intimate partner abuse, physical and emotional abuse as well as sexual assault.
But the most severely affected region of the world is the African continent where no less than one third of African women have experienced domestic violence both physical and sexual. This begins in childhood as the majority show a preference for sons over daughters which sets the stage for low self-esteem for many African women that perpetuates a never ending cycle of violence against them. This violence is expressed in multiple ways including female genital mutilation to control a woman’s sexuality that is wide-spread in 28 countries with the prevalence of the practice ranging from 5% in Uganda to over 90% in Somalia. Rape of women is rampant and becomes a weapon of war in conflicts during which women are also impregnated. Emotional and physical abuse of African women is high and rises to over 70 % among women in some countries. In all these situations populations living in dire poverty with no education or low educational attainment have the highest prevalence of violence in general and violence against women in particular. All these fuel the spread of HIV infection.
Therefore, in this era of Agenda 2030 of Sustainable Development Goals, the global community should work together to ensure that programs are in place everywhere for eradication of poverty, education for all as well as family planning programs for managed and manageable lives in our countries. This crisis needs our urgent, constant attention. All these efforts will immensely contribute to having AIDS free Generations in Africa and all over the world.