Tackling HIV stigma and discrimination in rural India through women support groups

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Tackling HIV stigma and discrimination in rural India through women support groups

Globally, India has the third-largest population of people living with HIV/AIDS. According to national estimates, in 2019, there are more than 2.35 million PLHIV in India, of which about 1.35 million are women. As nearly 65% of India’s population reside in rural settings, around 57% of PLHIV are estimated to be from rural areas. This results in issues becoming more pronounced in the fight against HIV for women and those living in rural areas. A non-exhaustive list would include poor access to healthcare services and limited awareness and capacity to address issues like sexuality, condom use, STD and STIs, and HIV.

Around the world, HIV stigma and discrimination continue to undermine prevention, treatment, care, and support services for PLHIV. In India, at Yerala Projects Society (YPS), we have observed first-hand how it prevents PLHIV from being truthful about their status with their partners and families and how it threatens their access to healthcare services as well as inheritance rights. We firmly believe that no policy or law alone can combat HIV stigma and discrimination. The fear and prejudice need to be tackled both at the community and national level.

In implementing various HIV prevention and control programs, YPS came across many women, girls, widows, and especially the poor who were infected or afflicted by HIV/AIDS, isolated from their families and communities. Locally, women with HIV face social judgment and isolation and receive lesser social tolerance than men with high-risk sex behaviors who contract HIV. The stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV devalues people living or associated with the disease. Its impact is considerably worse for individuals and groups already marginalized because of their gender, economic status, sexuality, or community.

In 2020, with the support of the Gilead Asia Pacific Rainbow Grant, YPS launched “Mixed Women Micro-Credit Support Groups” in rural areas to organize women and girls, both HIV positive and negative, to provide them a common platform. The support groups act as a ‘safe forum’ for women and girls to discuss sensitive issues like reproductive and sexual health, STDs and STIs, HIV, condom use, and more. They are also trained with skills and knowledge to empower them to overcome socio-economic challenges. This includes financial literacy, accessing health services, linkages with community organizations and banks, HIV counseling, and care strategies. We then link these support groups to government schemes and financial institutions to expand their businesses and micro-enterprises to achieve sustained livelihoods.

Through our program, YPS hopes to help reduce fear, misconceptions, HIV stigma and discrimination in religiously strong, resource-limited rural India. The project has received recognition from various sources: the support from the Gilead Asia Pacific Rainbow Grant; the UNDP in India on a pilot basis; and at IAS conferences in Vienna, Melbourne, Amsterdam, etc., where it was selected for presentations.


About

Yerala Projects Society is a registered not-for-profit charitable organisation working in India since 1976. YPS is working in partnership with – Central and State Governments, national and international donor organizations, consulates, corporates, individuals and community. Since 2002, YPS is engaged in HIV/AIDS primary prevention and control, reducing social stigma and discrimination, the empowerment and sustainable livelihoods for people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

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