I’m thrilled to be asked to reflect on what breaking the bias means to me for International Women’s Day 2022.
Recognising women’s contributions is so important. At the time of my HIV diagnosis, I knew of no other woman who was positive. Sadly, many women can live for years - sometimes decades - without discussing, disclosing or sharing their experiences with someone outside of their specialist team.
Isolated and alone, many women do not get the opportunity to share and come to terms with diagnosis. They can carry the burden of social and self-stigma, often leading to poor mental health as the body-shaming is internal and external.
Sadly, although women account for more than half the number of people living with HIV globally; our existence and experiences remain largely invisible.
Women including trans women are still fighting to be included in HIV history.
Our story isn’t clearly told. We have to break this bias.
This matters, because without visibility we can be seen as passive recipients who are not empowered to take control of our bodies, or influence the medicines and policies that control how we live, and the quality of our lives and choices. Without the greater general awareness that women can acquire HIV, they cannot make informed choices about their sexual health and potentially it can be missed from a diagnosis.
In my research, I was humbled to find so many women active in HIV history and today.
Not just women living with and affected by HIV, but women influencing the science of HIV; women as national and international activists; women being mother and caregivers. Women giving visibility to other women and challenging stereotypes.
I realised we were always here.
Knowing this history has made me stronger and has acted as an antidote, in some ways, to the invisibility, shame and stigma that I felt. Along with better information, support and mentoring, I see myself differently.
I hope people living with HIV will be able to see these ladies and have role models to aspire to and even beyond.
I hope that, as you read about my HIV heroines, you’ll be as moved and inspired as I was.
Yvonne Richards, HIV acitivist and volunteer at George House Trust.
7th March 2022