Gender-based violence has played a major role in the spread of HIV/Aids in the province, leaving women and young girls powerless to avoid infection
Bullied by partners, relatives and other male contacts, some of the women succumb to the sexual advances of men, even when they knew they would be compromising their health, according to Ikhwezi Lokusa Wellness Centre’s programme director, Kazeka Somhlahlo.
She said some women were abused under the banner of cultural and traditional practices, being forced to have unprotected sex, sometimes in situations when they knew that multiple partners were involved. “That is where we come in with our psycho-social community responsibility programme,” she said.
Somhlahlo said her organisation provided care, support and treatment to close to 1900 patients in the province, some from as far as Aliwal North and Transkei.
The centre has full-time doctors, nurses, a pharmacy and other staff in East London, and also provides community outreach, social support and patient empowerment programmes to communities.
Established in 2002, Ikhwezi Lokusa caters for patients on anti- retrovirals (ARVs), and also works towards keeping those who have not started taking them healthy enough not to need them. “Because HIV, Aids and gender go together our role is not limited to the physical, but the social aspects of our patients as well.”
She said their role as facilitators in the well-being of people living with HIV and Aids became more pronounced during the ongoing international rally of 16 Days of Activism for no violence against women and children .
The campaign, recognised worldwide and commemorated between November 25 and December 10, is aimed at generating increased awareness about violence against women and children.
It also highlights the ways in which such violence manifests itself within the society, and the negative impact it has on vulnerable groups. “Women are reminded that they were ‘bought’ when the man paid lobola to their families, and they are left with no option but to give in to his demands against their better judgment,” said Somhlahlo.
She said some were raped, sometimes by people they knew.
“Then you have those in difficult housing situations, where too many people, both female and male, live together in a small shack.”
Describing such situations as “explosive”, she said indiscriminate sexual acts took place, and in some cases women are forced to provide sexual favours in order to have a place to live.