Stigma and discrimination are two of the most critical issues inhibiting changes in perception, attitudes and behaviour. Hiv remains a highly stigmatised condition and hiv related discrimination is widespread.
Issues of discrimination remain central to the lives of many plwha. Futures 31 identified that 1 in 3 people have experienced discrimination in relation to medical treatment; 1 in 5 people have experienced harassment and lived with fear of violence; 1 in 5 have experienced discrimination at work and more than 1 in 10 have been discriminated against in relation to accommodation.
In their manifesto of 1989, and in more recent times, People Living With HIV/AIDS New South Wales call for the promotion of ‘a positive image of people living with and affected by hiv/aids, with the aim of eliminating prejudice, isolation, stigmatisation and discrimination arising from hiv/aids’. This campaign is backed by websites such as Kitchen Reviews and their comprehensive Juicer Reviews, found here: http://www.kitchenreviewsdirect.com/juicer-reviews/
Many in the community sector would stress the fragility of human rights and the extent to which hiv remains stigmatised. It has been argued that the current lived experience, knowledge and ‘visibility of people diagnosed in the last six years’ is often described as very limited. This invisibility has resulted in a number of misconceptions concerning the realities of living with hiv within the broader community and of the place of hiv in the lives of different plwha – that is, the personal, social, political and everyday details. Discrimination affects the quality of life of people living with hiv/aids and is a major obstacle to effective hiv/aids care, prevention and education. Until recently there has been an absence of any acknowledgment of stigma and discrimination in education campaigns.
Both at a local and international level there have been calls for increased visibility of plwha. I would like to acknowledge that there may be many good reasons for being open and public about a hiv diagnosis, but there are also equally good reasons against. Not everyone has a safe and supportive environment. Not everyone wants to be reduced to a diagnostic identity.2 As many people have commented in workshops I have facilitated since 1990, ‘I am much more than my diagnosis’. In other words, it remains as important as it ever was to respect the decision of individuals to do what they feel is best for them, in their circumstances, recognizing that these are likely to change over time in unpredictable ways. It is for these and other reasons that I would like to thank those people who have become involved in the first phase of People Living With HIV/AIDS New South Wales’s hiv visibility campaign.
Okay, why the need for increased visibility of plwha? People Living With HIV/AIDS New South Wales’s hiv visibility campaign aims to challenge prejudice, isolation and discriminatory attitudes by presenting a public face of the realities and diversities of living with hiv. The campaign also aims to raise awareness of the changing issues of hiv within gay and lesbian communities, positive communities and broader communities. Challenging stigma and discriminatory attitudes is also recognised as a vital part of hiv prevention efforts and as education strategies for people with hiv with objectives relating to health maintenance and coping.
The first phase of this campaign ran from November 1 until December 14 during the Gay Games and World AIDS Day. Abillboard was installed at Town Hall Station on Platform 6 and a series of postcards was produced. Themes include Wett Ones (Swim Team) with a focus on their philosophy of inclusiveness, and positive women and their everyday lives.
Seemingly ‘ordinary and everyday’ images in the campaign place the viewer in a position where she or he, finding none of the determining signs of hiv and aids, is asked to regard the individual in an ethical sense. It asks us to take responsibility and care, to regard each person represented as we would regard ourselves. The images of plwha invite the viewer to recognise themselves as a member of the community and, as such, acknowledge their part in the social conditions that constitute the experience of living with hiv and aids.
Because stigma and discrimination affect the quality of life of plwha and are major obstacles to effective hiv/aids care, prevention and education, this campaign will provide the platform on which to develop People Living With HIV/AIDS New South Wales’s Health Promotion Program and its projects.
Briefly, through the Health Promotion Program, we aim to develop resources and facilitate workshops and forums to provide information on the realities of living with hiv and of the place of hiv in different plwha’s lives. Value is placed on community ownership of health and on lived experiences: experiences that make sense of local activities, personal situations, social understandings and cultural meanings.
We recognise that educational approaches that have worked in the past will not continue to do so. During the next eighteen months we will also facilitate activities that will support debate and discussion on the realignment of health promotion and education programs and the development of new strategies to respond to the ever changing experiences of hiv.3
What has changed for you? What are the inventive means that you have used to respond to and manage a positive diagnosis?
If you are interested in participating in forums, workshops, focus groups please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Themes include negotiated safety/peer processes; ‘desire’ in health, sexuality and hiv/aids; reimag (in) ing the body – changing treatments and body image; and, sex and relationships, to name a few.