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A Message from Malawi, International Women's Day
Joyce* lives in Bangwe, a township in the city of Blantyre, Malawi, where AVERT’s partner, Umunthu Foundation, works closely with the community. She found out that she was HIV positive in 1999, when she was pregnant, and is currently taking antiretroviral treatment (ARVs). Two of her children are also living with HIV as prevention of mother-to-child transmission services only started up locally after they were born. Both of them take ARVs and she encourages them to go to school as much as possible, but their teachers are not always supportive, which can make it hard for them to take their medication. Joyce is a single mum, as her husband passed away. She does some small-scale business in the community selling products to get enough money to feed her children and pay their school fees. Sometimes, though, opportunistic infections stop her from being able to work. Joyce feels that it can be harder for a woman living with HIV in her community, than it is for men, mainly because access to good jobs is lower among women. She must also deal with stigma from her community, because she is HIV positive; “people look at you like you are not a person”, Joyce says.
Joyce has been a member of Umunthu Foundation’s 'Home-based Carers’ support group for the last four years. Every Monday, Joyce and a small group of women, who are all living positively, meet to talk about the issues affecting them and to learn more about HIV and AIDS, treatment adherence and nutrition. Joyce really appreciates being a member of the group, as she feels that she can give encouragement to other people, and that they can face problems, such as community stigma, together. Umunthu Foundation's support group gives Joyce, and the other ladies, a place to make lasting friendships, to share experiences and feelings, and to become stronger together. Without this, Joyce comments, "we will be standing idle”. By working together the ladies “make things become good”. They produce things that they can then sell, start up small informal businesses, and share gardening and cooking tips that help them to feed their children.
“We should stand and be strong as women. We are so strong and we have got everything and do everything. I am very proud and we must appreciate that we are women” Joyce
Joyce has shared her experiences in commemoration of International Women's Day, 8 March.
* Not her real name