PEPFAR's Gender Strategy: Action at the Intersection of HIV Infection and Gender-Based Violence

Posted by Daniela Ligiero
March 9, 2011
Women at Displacement Camp in the Eastern Congo

This week, we celebrate International Women's Day. According to the World Health Organization, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women between the ages of 15-44, and nearly 60 percent of the people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women. Throughout the week, PEPFAR is highlighting its work in addressing gender and the needs of women in this epidemic.

PEPFAR is working to help girls and women lead healthier lives by uniting against gender-based violence (GBV). Studies from around the world have shown that GBV is a true global health crisis. The data are appalling: over 50 percent of women in Ethiopia and over 30 percent in Peru report experiencing GBV in the last 12 months; over 65 percent of girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and over 35 percent in Haiti report that their first sexual experience was coerced.

GBV prevents women and girls from engaging in safe sexual practices, from disclosing their HIV status, and from seeking care and treatment. In addition, women and girls living with HIV often live with the double burden of fearing violence due to both their gender and their HIV status.

In response to these twin epidemics, PEPFAR provided an estimated $68 million in bilateral support for GBV activities in more than 28 countries in FY 2010. In addition, PEPFAR is now investing in an intensified scale-up of the response to GBV in three countries -- the DRC, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Through these programs we plan to:

• Move beyond GBV pilots to significant scale-up;

• Support screening and counseling for GBV within HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs where appropriate;

• Support comprehensive GBV response packages at all health facilities that can help prevent HIV infection for those who have experienced sexual violence;

• Support GBV prevention programs to address the underlying causes of violence -- and work across sectors (education, police, judiciary, social services);

• Address policy and structural barriers;

• Advance the knowledge base through support for program and intervention evaluation and improve monitoring of activities.

I recently joined Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, on her visit to DRC. It was clear that all of the above are needed to curb both the HIV and GBV epidemics. In particular, I was struck at how aware women in the country are of the link between these two issues, and their call for more action from both their government and the international community.

I visited an HIV hotline that PEPFAR supports. Currently, the staff are only able to respond to approximately 30 percent of the almost 3,000 calls per day, and demand continues to grow. We heard from staff at the call center, most of whom are HIV-positive women, that women are increasingly calling to ask both about HIV and GBV services. Therefore, as part of the GBV scale-up through PEPFAR, the existing hotline will be expanded to respond to all incoming calls, as well as to incorporate answers and referrals to GBV in addition to HIV. It's a great example of a smart investment, stretching our dollars by leveraging our PEPFAR platform to meet another urgent need.

Beyond its contribution to the AIDS pandemic, GBV is simply unacceptable. By addressing both, PEPFAR is improving the status of women and preventing the spread of HIV. These are smart investments that save lives and contribute to a world where women and girls are healthy, safe, and valued.



Lucie K.
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
March 23, 2011

Lucie K. in the Democratic Republic of the Congo writes:

We are kindly requesting PEPFAR to help us get some practical self defense skills from a group in Kenya known as Dolphin Anti rape,we have tried to get funds to enable them come over but it has not been possible. HIV/AIDS is being easily spread through sexual violence and if we cannot protect ourselves even from civilians then it is going to be difficult to contain the spread. Women and girls easily get raped when they go to fetch water,gather firewood and and even from their day to day activities. Such skills will go a long way in preventing the spread as it is successfully being done in Kenya.

Please help us by enabling these group from Kenya come over to Congo and help us

Thank you

Yours sincerely

Lucie K.


Duncan O.
March 25, 2011

Duncan in Kenya writes:

Yes i concur with Lucie, Sexual violence may look difficult but not all situations are impossible to stop if women,girls and children get equipped with practical skills that can them identify,avoid,prevent and protect themselves from rape.Until you have tried a strategy you cannot know the wonders it has. In Kenya a girl as young as 8 years and a woman as old as 65 years have successfully used the skills to stop rape on their own.

The situation Congo is not very different although some acts of abuse are done by rebels and soldiers, infact civilian men are also culpable

Congo can stop being referred to as the rape capital in the world if women and girls are equipped with such life saving skills,

We are ready to come and help if we can be financially supported in terms of accomodation,travel and maintanance .

Thank you


Laurenzia K.
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
March 26, 2011

Laurenzia K. in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

On behalf of other women and girls in Goma i wish to side with the 2 writers one from Kenya and the one from Bukavu.Yes women and girls need such skills that they can use to prevent and protect themselves in the event of attacks because police and justice systems cannot be fully relied upon as they come in when things have already happened.Just imagine the other day a teen age was raped by only one man and i believe if she had some skills to defend herself, she could not have fallen victim.

Current programs taking place are not having any impact on containing the situation as the focus mainly on after rape support which is not a solution but a management strategy. If women and girls get such skills, i am sure there will be a very big difference in the way rape is addressed in Congo.

Where are the donors who care about congo women and girls to bring us these group from Kenya called Dolphin Anti rape.

Thank you

Yours sincerely



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