Africa regional meeting on Integrating Gender-Based Violence and HIV Prevention, Treatment and Care into National Alcohol Policies
To date, while national policies may encompass two of the three issues of harmful use of alcohol, gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV, the three are rarely addressed together causing a significant gap. Looking at the three issues (GBV, HIV and harmful use of alcohol) we can see that there are varying levels of understanding of the relationship between gender inequality and the three issues of focus in this initiative. All three issues meet where alcohol fuels sexual violence or where people who are intoxicated are vulnerable to sexual abuse and rape – in both cases increasing their risk of acquiring HIV. The harmful use of alcohol is linked to gender-based violence including interpersonal violence, domestic violence and community violence (especially rape and sexual violence).
Recently, Namibia’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, with financial assistance from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and World Health Organisation (WHO), hosted a three-day Africa Consultative workshop (June10-13, 2014) that discussed the intersection of alcohol abuse, gender-based violence and increased vulnerability to HIV, as well as other health problems.
Speaking at the three day regional workshop, the UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Musinga T. Bandora noted that “alcohol is a recurring factor in the sexual risk taking behaviour of individuals, and in the effectiveness of ART and adherence to treatment regimens. The three issues-namely harmful uses of alcohol, HIV transmission and Gender Based Violence intersect where alcohol fuels sexual violence or where people who are intoxicated are vulnerable to sexual abuse and rape-resulting in increasing risks of acquiring HIV.”
In order to increase and expand effective responses to the three interlinked issues of alcohol related harm, gender based violence and HIV transmission and treatment, UNDP and WHO propose a long term programme with global, regional and national partners. The first phase of such an initiative would be a 12 month pilot in up to seven countries in two regions – Eastern Europe and Southern Africa.
The overall long-term global programme goal is to develop evidence-informed policy and practice at global, regional and national levels to address the harmful use of alcohol in concert with improving HIV prevention and treatment outcomes and reducing of and responding to gender-based violence outcomes.
Many studies in southern and eastern Africa have associated alcohol use with HIV infection, as well as with behaviours that lead to infection ‑ such as engaging in unprotected and commercial sex and having multiple partners.
A WHO report titled ‘Alcohol Use and Sexual Risk Behaviour: A Cross-Cultural Study in Eight Countries’ identifies other key patterns of interaction between alcohol use and sexual behaviour related to the construction of maleness in terms of alcohol use; denial and neglect of risk as a way of coping with life; the use of alcohol-serving venues as contact places for sexual encounters; the use of alcohol during first sexual encounters, and the promotion of alcohol use in pornographic materials.
Mr. Bandora further applauded the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare and the Ministry of Health and Social Services in Namibia for taking this bold step to put efforts together and jointly host the meeting in collaboration with the United Nations.
The workshop brought together a great number of health workers on HIV related topics, gender experts, civil society and United Nations representatives from various African countries.