I am a firm believer that being open about our HIV status is a powerful tool to challenge stigma around living with HIV.
The fact that only a handful of women in the UK are willing to do it is a clear indicator that this is impossibly difficult.
I believe often women are not open about their status because they need to protect people they love, often their children and families. Other times they are just terrified of the consequences. The possible violence, or just the rejection and the isolation they would experience as a result.
I think that I had a ‘relative advantage’ in my openness. Firstly, my employer is an HIV organization, so it wouldn’t (at present at least!) affect my employment. Secondly my parents are both dead. So I don’t worry about upsetting them. Thirdly I am single and without children. I don’t have to be anxious about the consequences of my openness on others I care about. And above all, I had incredible support from other women living with HIV here at PW as well as incredible role models like Angelina Namiba, Winnie Sseruma, Alice Welbourn, who also are women living openly with HIV.
One of the most exciting ideas from the Leadership and Accountability Committee meeting I participated to in preparation for the next International Aids Conference is to make a call to political leaders in high prevalence countries to ‘come out’ about their status. Is it possible that there isn’t anyone? I don’t think so.
We had a very lively debate about this and some questioned: what would the point be? The point would be to show firstly that anybody can live with HIV, and secondly that you can live a normal life and even hold great responsibilities, like being a minister or an MP. I think this would have a huge impact especially in Africa where stigma is still at the highest levels. Obviously we are not planning to ‘Out’ anybody. But wouldn’t it be great if somebody in power said: ‘Yes I am HIV positive, so what?’