Accra — A new study has revealed that religious and traditional challenges are a hindrance to dealing with HIV/AIDS and violence against women (VAW).
It states that in Northern Ghana, women continue to suffer violence in spite of existing laws due to negligence and ignorance about women and people's rights, and misinterpretation of religious and cultural practices.
Even supposed experts who claim to be inclined to gender issues were found to have little or no experience to deal with the issue.
The author of the report, Mrs. Yaa Peprah Agyemang Amekudzi stated, "Poverty and lack of formal education were also identified as being used to perpetuate violence against women. Sometimes they feel they have to keep quiet to receive such abuses."
ActionAid Ghana under its thematic area of women's rights, commissioned the research, "Violence and HIV/AIDS: The Interface, Voices of Women in Northern Ghana", to highlight the vulnerability of women to HIV/AIDS due to the violence they face. The study was meant to facilitate policy formulation and implementation, as well as service delivery to mitigate such vulnerability.
It focused on six districts, two in each of the three northern regions, namely Jirapa and Lawra (Upper West), Talensi Nabdam (Upper East) and Tamale and Bole (Northern region).
Disseminating the findings of the research in Accra, Mrs. Amekudzi cited physical violence or assault as predominant, besides arbitrary dissolution of marriages without responsibilities and compensation and forced marriages.
On the linkage between VAW and HIV/AIDS, she said issues such as sexual violence against women increased their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.
"Fear of violence prevents women from negotiating safe sex, stigma and violence meted out to women who test positive and declare their status have caused them to turn to commercial sex work to survive."
She said that consequently, it retards development in all facets of social, economic and political, since the consequences of HIV/AIDS goes beyond women's health to their role as caregivers and mothers and their contribution to the economic support of their families.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) report of 2003, studies conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa indicate a close association between increased risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and VAW.
These vindicate the position of gender activists that HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, the transmission of which is sometimes a consequence of sexual violence, are having a devastating effect on women's health, particularly the health of adolescent girls and young women.
An estimated 32.2 million people globally were living with HIV & AIDS in 2007 of which 15.4 million were women.
Now, 17.5 million women are living with AIDS with 77% of them in Sub-Sahara Africa, 90% of these are children.
Former Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Mr. Kofi Annan, once stated that if the world wants to save Africa from two catastrophes- famine and AIDS- then it must do well to focus on saving Africa's women, adding, "In Africa, AIDS has a woman's face."
According to the new ActionAid study current HIV control efforts have failed to stem the high rate among women and girls in the three northern regions of Ghana.
It states that primarily, efforts have failed to recognize the lack of or low participation of women in decision-making, even when decisions are about them.
It mentioned that female condom has very minimum user rate in all the three northern regions because the decision to use them does not rest with women.
The study recommended that with policy implications district assemblies should enact bye-laws against harmful cultural practices and institutions such as NCCE, DOVVSU and police must be strengthened for effective.
"Government should open shelters and provide services for survivors of violence and HIV/AIDS, religious bodies should support victims of violence and HIV/AIDS and indicators should be developed to track effects of awareness creation about domestic violence and HIV, it added.
Ms. Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, Country Director of ActionAid noted that change cannot be sustained without addressing the power dynamics.
"We are working on building and strengthening the voice of persons living with HIV/AIDS. We want to increase their access to information and skills, especially the vulnerable ones."
She explained the objective of the project was to reduce violence against women which plays a critical role in exposing them to HIV infection in line with the UN Declaration on violence against women.