Uganda: Domestic Violence Escalating HIV Infections in Uganda

26 January 2018

Uganda has many women, who are infected with HIV and have had a history of physically violent partners.

This has contributed to their life-threatening and life-reducing experiences within their families and with their sexual partners. Also, there is growing violence of child sexual abuse (CSA) that has increased HIV spread.

There is a number of evident cases where domestic violence (DV) has contributed to HIV infections, especially among women and adolescent girls and vice versa. CSA among many girl-children, who also become HIV-positive is increasing.

Some women have come up to report or address it but there are those, who keep it a secret because they think they will be exposing their families and particularly their partners. Such women continue to live fear -filled, abusive and miserable lives.

To make matters worse for women living with domesticated violence from spouses and other family members, some people in Uganda take it as normal for women to be battered and abused, shamed and shared and or sexually and economically exploited.

There are numerous cases where violence and HIV go hand in hand. For example, instances where lack of basic needs like food, shelter and clothing in homes lead to risky sexual relationships and abusive encounters are well documented.

Forced sex , early marriages, abusive language from spouse and/or economic exploitation in families, may affect a woman's decision in a sexual debate and increase in domestic violence.

Sometimes girls and women who test positive for HIV find it hard to live in peace, health and dignity after sharing HIV results with their intended partners or married partners. In other cases where partners discover the truth without being told, violence, abuse, open abandonment and or silent neglect is the order of the day.

To reduce or end these challenges, there is need to increase women's capacity and awareness to prevent and respond to gender based violence (GBV).

Handling HIV positive, sexually abused, domestically violated women, calls for combined effort. Such approaches can also improve the women's knowledge on HIV and gender based violence and empower them with information on available service providers for effective responses to gender based violence.

Government bodies and ministries such as the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, police, human rights commission, and civil society organisations can do better.

Service providers should simplify messages that can be passed to public through places of worship where people usually run for help, market places and mass media.

There is need to provide continuous training about HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, sexual and reproductive health and violence among gender violence impacted, HIV at-risk and vulnerable people. Counselling and testing is a core part of HIV prevention strategies.

To help women and young adolescents, we need to focus on behavioural, social and structural changes necessary for good health, stable families and a peaceful Uganda.

This is because HIV may lead to violence and yet violence in families may also lead to HIV infections. Besides, empowering these people against GBV can (and will) change their livelihoods for the better.

Women, their partners, family members and the wider community should be sensitised about gender equality in sexual, health and HIV-related decision-making. Women have more positive image and self worth and are ready to protect their rights. They only need to be continuously guided and supported to be able to get knowledge and skills so that they can also bring their colleagues on board, more especially those that are still living in fear and or lacking knowledge.

Ms Akankwatsa is programme manager at Women Health Concern

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