Media turns a blind eye to GBV and HIV link

  • Kim Johnson - 30 November 2012

Media coverage has failed to link HIV and gender-based violence—despite World AIDS Day intersecting with 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children this week.

Nearly a week into 16 Days of Activism there has been a deluge of media coverage on the subject.

Given the media’s events-based nature, commemorative periods like these provide an ideal opportunity to make reporting on social issues a priority. This includes coverage of the upcoming World AIDS Day, which has seen a rise in HIV coverage this week.

Whist it is encouraging to see such pertinent issues raised in the press, this week’s coverage failed to draw clear connections between gender-based violence (GBV) and the HIV epidemic. Of the 17 articles that relate to 16 Days of Activism this week, only one mentioned HIV.

While an article by Anso Thom in The Star reinforced the message that South Africa cannot hope to tackle HIV without addressing infamously high levels of GBV, the rest of the media seemed to remain blissfully unaware of how GBV contributes to South Africa’s bloated HIV burden.

Most of the pieces—whether they were reports, opinion pieces or editorial comment—rattled off reams of stats in an effort to communicate the seriousness of the GBV problem.

But the true extent of GBV in South Africa cannot be brought into focus without considering the complex relationships it has with HIV.

Studies have shown that women who are exposed to gender-based violence are more likely to be HIV-positive.

This is not only because sexual assault can create tears that allow HIV to pass into the body more easily but also because women in relationships characterised by GBV may not be able to negotiate condom use or confront and/or leave unfaithful partners.

GBV also indirectly puts women at risk of HIV by making them emotionally and psychologically vulnerable and therefore more likely to engage in risky behaviours like using drugs, engaging in multiple sexual partnerships or having unprotected sex.

There is ample research suggesting that GBV is one of the key drivers of the HIV epidemic in South Africa and the twin issues of HIV and GBV combine to create an acute human rights issue. It is a pity that news reports could not add that evidence to the statistics they quoted with such gusto.

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“women who are exposed to gender-based violence are more likely to be HIV-positive”