Papua New Guinea: HIV Risk for Women Increased by Violence and Accusations of Witchcraft

The prevalence of HIV in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the highest among Pacific region countries. Experts assert that violence against women is a major contributing factor to the spread of HIV. Stuart Watson country director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) explained that there is a strong link between gender-based violence and HIV infection. He pointed out that a UNAIDS study found that the first sexual encounter of many girls was forced and “the trauma of experiencing abuse usually sets off a pattern of unsafe sexual practices.”  The report found that women who had been sexually abused as children or by an intimate partner were twice as likely to test positive for HIV than those who were not abused.

To compound the problem, traditional beliefs in witchcraft or magic are often used as a justification for violent acts against women. A report by Amnesty International indicates that women weresix times more likely to be accused of witchcraft than men.  Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women who recently completed a week-long visit to the country said, “I was shocked to witness the brutality of the assaults perpetrated against suspected sorcerers, which in many cases include torture, rape, mutilations and murder. Any misfortune or death within the community can be used as an excuse to accuse such person of being a sorcerer.”