Dismantling the Chain: The Link between Gender-based Violence and HIV in South African Women

South Africa is home to the largest number of people living with HIV compared to any other
country, with an estimated 5.6 million people in 2011 (1). Compared to other regions like
Eastern Europe where injection drug use primarily drives HIV, heterosexual sex primarily drives
the HIV epidemic in South Africa. The HIV prevalence in Cape Town, South Africa’s second
largest city, is 13%, with prevalence reaching as high as 25% in impoverished urban townships
and informal settlements (2). All around the world, the populations that are most vulnerable to
and affected by disease, including HIV, are the poor, marginalized, and/or individuals with
relatively low access to economic, political, and social resources. Such is the case with women in
South Africa, who continue to comprise the majority of HIV infections in this country, and who
have low power and status relative to men. In an effort to curb the HIV epidemic, scientists have
conducted behavioural research to develop interventions or programs that aim to reduce
heterosexual risk behaviour, or raise women’s status and access to resources. In this article, some
of these recent HIV prevention efforts in South Africa are described. In general, HIV behavioural
research and prevention efforts targeted at South African women has focused on increasing
gender equality and reducing gender-based violence.

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