World AIDS Day: Women Open Up On The Stigma They Face Living With HIV

More than 100 women have revealed what it's like to live with HIV to raise awareness of the huge stigma surrounding the illness.

They hope to make others aware of the negative attitudes they regularly face, and to open people's eyes to the common misconception that it's mainly guys who suffer from the infection.

The survey by sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust coincides with World AIDS Day, which is designed to raise awareness of both HIV and AIDS.

The charity polled 106 women (aged 18-64) who have been diagnosed with HIV in the last 15 years. The majority said they'd experienced stigma since their diagnosis.

Sadly, most of these negative attitudes came from friends (42%), closely followed by people they dated (40%) and colleagues at work (33%).

Worryingly, most of the women polled (83%) felt there was a level of self-stigma or stigma that they impose on themselves - more than half blamed themselves and almost two thirds felt ashamed (60%).

When the participants were asked what kind of hurtful words they'd heard others use when speaking about women with HIV, the top four were: disgusting, promiscuous, dirty and deserved.

The survey's participants share a strong belief that more needs to be done to teach the British public the difference between HIV and AIDS to help reduce stigma.

Ann Marie Byrne is a grandmother and campaigner who is living with HIV in London. She says women are often "forgotten" when discussions about HIV take place, both in everyday conversation and in the media.

"We are considered to be a lower risk group than say gay men and yet as women we are stigmatised as much if not more as the media often portray us as 'promiscuous' and deserving of contracting this virus," she adds.

"[People on] social media use words like 'Karma' and speak of 'this disgusting disease'. We are portrayed as being 'dirty' and less worthy of sympathy than women living with other medical conditions because of our so called 'lifestyle choices' which of course, is totally untrue."

She adds: "HIV is a virus, not a moral judgement and these kinds of attitudes prevent women from being tested and accessing treatment, which means that the eradication of this virus becomes so much more difficult.

"Until we can stop the grossly unfair use of certain words by the media and social media it will be a continuing uphill battle to normalise this condition and allow women to speak out about their status."

Mandy Tyson, executive director for services and clinical at Terrence Higgins Trust, says that it is now vital to start conversations surrounding how we speak and write about HIV.

"The condition has been a recognised health issue in the UK for more than 30 years now and the advances in treatment have been staggering; but equally so is that HIV stigma prevails," she says.

"Unfortunately a range of attitudes seem to have remained in the 1980’s and linking HIV positive women with promiscuity is disgraceful. It is time that we all stood together to stop stigma."


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