GENDER NORMS INFLUENCING YOUNG WOMEN’S ACCESS & UPTAKE OF HIV TREATMENT by Saidy Brown, South Africa
There is an effort that has been put in place, in making sure that women living with HIV live long, and healthy lives. However, women living with HIV experience the most stigma, discrimination and violence. Both domestically and in health care facilities.
It is important that women tell their own stories, because we can’t say we fully understand anything they go through, if it is not from their own perspectives. In 2016, the World Health Organization recommended that people living with HIV adhere to their treatment from the date of diagnosis, to make it more manageable living with HIV, but women are still experiencing violence at home, and in health care facilities. Gender inequalities related to cultural, economic, and human rights issues, pose some barriers to women’s choices regarding access and adherence to treatment.
A woman’s decision-making on disclosure is highly influenced by how supportive their partners and families will be. The fear of rejection, could limit their ability to adhere to treatment, and make the rate of retention lower on women as compared to men. These barriers further extend to household, families and community levels as it is easier for society to stigmatize adolescent girls and young women than men. Financial barriers also exist, because underpaid and unemployed women suffer these effects the most. Being given pills and told to take them at a specific time, daily, yet no one asks what one eats, or what happens if takes these pills while hungry. Food security and nutrition also becomes hard to follow when there is no money for food. Lack of transportation for women who have to travel longer distances to reach clinics. In rural areas you find some places with no clinic, and if there is on, it becomes the only one. In clinics, young women and girls also experience violation of rights, there is poor health communication, some people don’t even know what their cd4 counts and viral load results are, they just know they have to go for these annual HIV tests, but no one explains to them why it is so important for them to do so. All these inequalities result in women experiencing internalized stigma, due to their HIV status, resulting in low self-esteem and mental health problems. On a positive note, being on treatment consistently has made women reach viral suppression, they also get support from other women in peer-led support groups. Activists on social media have also made it safer, and easier to reach out for help. Ending the spread of HIV includes listening to all women’s experiences and translating this knowledge into solutions that leave no women behind.
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