Unheard Voices: Advocates at the Frontline of HIV and Gender-Based Violence

January 14, 2020 - In addition to the blog and this resource note, learnings from global civil society, academia, and practitioners were shared on Twitter, leading to new insights, resources, and notable linkages between gender-based violence and HIV. Keep the conversation on gender-based violence (GBV), HIV and its various intersections going by engaging on social media with #Learn4Impact!

Today, the global community marks the end of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) with Human Rights Day. CanWaCH and our global partner Frontline AIDS are reflecting on the interaction of GBV and HIV through digital storytelling. Women impacted by HIV often face a range of types of gender-based violence (GBV), which is both a cause and consequence of living with HIV. Watch four compelling stories shared by a diverse group of women at the Canada Pavilion alongside Women Deliver 2019.

Stigma Masking Signs of GBV

Is it because I’m Indigenous? Is it because I was a drug user? Is it because I’m HIV positive?


Flo sought care in the Canadian healthcare system after being injured from partner violence. Yet, the signs of violence and bodily harm were dismissed. In addition to partner violence, women living with HIV can be denied adequate, timely and quality care in health settings because they are marginalized by race, age, sexual orientation or drug use history, among other factors. 

Unfortunately, Flo’s case is not unique. Stigmatizing behavior by healthcare workers can lead to them overlooking signs of sexual violence. The results are two-fold: distrust in health services and under-reporting of violence. 

Gendered Double Standard in Drug Use

Women who are using drugs and/or living with drug addiction should be more visible in leadership positions to empower equitable policies and improved services 


As an advocate for Ukrainian women who are living with drug addiction, Halyna offers a deeper look into blanket assumptions about motherhood that can lead to discrimination against people who use drugs which in turn leads to different forms of GBV. For instance, women who have a history of using drugs can be considered unfit to raise children and are subject to punitive laws of forced child removal. 

Women who use drugs are two to five times more likely to experience GBV than women in the general population. This includes violence from partners, from clients if women are also engaging in sex work, from judicial systems, and while accessing health and social services. 

Empowering Youth

On a daily basis, children, adolescents and young people [with HIV] go through stigma and discrimination at every level


Maximina’s tireless advocacy for youth has been powered by her own experience of being challenged with navigating HIV and SRHR health services in Zimbabwe

In Southern and Eastern Africa, four out of five 10-19-year-olds newly acquiring HIV are girls. HIV-related stigma coupled with gender discrimination creates huge barriers for young people living with HIV to claim and realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Moving Forward 

As we move into the next decade of the global HIV response, here are some critical action areas: 

  1. Implement comprehensive sexual education for adolescents and young adults. This point was driven home as part of the ten-year, $1.4 billion Canadian annual investment in the health and rights of women, adolescents and children which includes a focus on critical gaps in SRHR.
  2. Invest in a strong, independent and accountable civil society that can support funding and capacity strengthening of local women’s groups.
  3. Take positive action by working alongside persons and communities affected by HIV across government, civil society, social services, and health systems. 


By Luisa Orza, Lead: HIV Technical (Gender), Frontline AIDS and Antu Hossain, Global Health Impact Officer, CanWaCH