Women, Gender-Based Violence and HIV/AIDS

WHAI Initiative

(Photo: Stella Osagie and Zahra Bolouk, WHAI Coordinators. Photo credit: used with permission from AIDS Committee of Toronto.)

The Women and HIV/AIDS Initiative (WHAI) is a province-wide project established in 2009 by the AIDS Bureau at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in response to the need for a province-wide strategy to address increases in HIV/AIDS among women. The Initiative is located in 17 sites across Ontario. In Toronto, WHAI is housed at AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) and delivered by two Coordinators, Stella Osagie and Zahra Bolouk.

WHAI’s goal is to reduce HIV transmission among women. It also enhances community health and social service providers’ capacity to address women and HIV /AIDS and help them build safe, healthy environments to support women. Women also include trans women, and WHAI is implemented using the social determinants of health and community development approaches.

Gender-based violence and HIV

  • Gender-based violence often leads to sex that is non-consensual, which increases the likelihood of abrasions, vaginal bleeding or tearing, which in turn increase vulnerability to HIV.
  • Women facing violence are usually marginalized and do not have full freedom to negotiate safer sex or drug use with their partners.
  • Gender-based violence can cause poor mental health outcomes like depression and low-self esteem which can increase in the chance of engaging in higher-risk activities.
  • Women who remain in violent relationships often face precarious economic, housing and safety situations, putting them at greater risk for exploitation, abuse and HIV infection.
  • Violence disempowers women psychologically, physically and financially, making it difficult for them to make decisions that promote their health and well-being.
  • Gender-based violence impacts negatively on the social determinants of health, a major factor in vulnerability to HIV transmission among women.

Resources and health supports to prevent HIV

HIV awareness is a starting point and extremely crucial to prevention. A good source of up-to-date information and resources is SHE website, sharedhealthexchange.net, provided by WHAI. It has a service locator that can help you find HIV services and programs all over the City of Toronto. The website gives information about HIV testing centres, specialised support and programs for people living with HIV or at risk, community health centres and agencies supporting women facing violence. WHAI Coordinators also provide capacity-building opportunities for service providers and help make connections through referrals.

More information about WHAI and training:

  • Stella Osagie 416-340-8484 x453 or sosagie@actoronto.org
  • Zahra Bolouk 416-340-8484 x276 or zbolouk@actoronto.org