By Sally Fisher, Director of NTERSECT: The HIV/Violence against Women & Girls Project
Women around the world have made huge strides, achieved political power, status, money, and celebrity. We make critical differences around conference tables, negotiating tables in the arts and in the courts everywhere, and yet we live in the midst of a global culture of violence. In many parts of the world and in a surprising number of cultures women are still perceived as vehicles for childbearing, property, sex objects, a product to be trafficked, the spoils of war and the vectors of misery. Violence against us is excused or justified. In addition to suffering high levels of violence, as a result of sexual assaults women are also infected with sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS among them.
Years before I became involved with V-Day as a producer of their first benefit performance of Eve's The Vagina Monologues, as well as the events at Madison Square Garden and the Apollo Theater, I was working at Dan Fauci's Actors Institute when AIDS began to loom large. I co-founded an AIDS agency called Northern Lights Alternatives to present workshops I had created, initially for the gay men who formed the first wave of those infected. Later women and girls from every walk of life, culture, ethnicity, race, education, and background began to share a common vulnerability to HIV infection through rape. Working at V-Day stirred my passion to do something about the intersection of violence against women and HIV, and so in 2001, V-day awarded me a grant to create INTERSECT Worldwide, working at that intersection.
Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan understood this dilemma well. "We need a deep social revolution that will give power to women and transform relations between women and men at all levels of society. It is only when women can speak up, and have a full say in decisions affecting their lives, that they will be able to truly protect themselves and their children against HIV."
- 25-50 percent of all women suffer physical abuse by a present or former intimate partner
- Women 15-24 are more likely to be infected through rape than their male counterparts.
- In South Africa one in five women can expect to be raped & 40% of them can expect to be infected with HIV.
- In India, there is no crime of rape within marriage if the couple is still together and men who report STIs are 2.5 times more likely to abuse their wives than males without such infections
- In some cultures young girls are raped by men who think sex with a virgin can cure AIDS It is possible to prevent a possible infection by taking a course a course of PEP (post-exposure prevention, which is a course of antiretroviral drugs, which must be started within the first 72 hours following the rape
INTERSECT Worldwide grew from three primary beliefs:
1) Violence against women and girls was a pivotal, yet widely overlooked piece of the transmission cycle of HIV/AIDS, particularly in the global south;
2) The women's movement in collaboration with other sectors unique to a particular geographical area, was well-suited to take on the task of making the world a safer place for women and girls through raising awareness and their voices about these co-epidemics;
3) New methods and approaches are required to bring together organizations and individuals working in HIV/AIDS, the women's movement, and Important related fields such as rights of the child, substance abuse, human rights, sex trafficking, reproductive health, and sex work to organize in order to meet the urgency and challenge of these pandemics, and to make sure that women understand their medical options and the value of reporting.
INTERSECT Worldwide holds as a vision that women will one day live in a world where ingenuity, creativity and integrity prevail and both HIV/AIDS and violence against women will be a thing of the past and we will all thrive.
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