Women affected by HIV striving together for a better life
28 November 2023
Story in commemoration of World AIDS Day 2023
“She was diagnosed with HIV at the age of sixty and very ashamed. She did not want to let her children know and to enroll in treatment. I had to come talking to her in private for several times to change her mind and get her on anti-retroviral medicines.” Said Ms Thanh* of a self-help group of women living with and affected by HIV in Ha Noi city.
“A female sex worker living with HIV who is client of our self-help group had symptoms of sexually transmitted infection (STI) but she kept delaying a visit to the doctor. She only came to us for help when she could not work anymore. And even then, she attempted to drop out of her STI treatment saying it took too long. Many sisters especially in the mountainous areas are like that, lacking awareness to take care of their sexual and reproductive health.” Said Ms Hoai* from Thai Nguyen province.
“One child living with HIV in my province was denied enrolment in primary school. Our self-help group had to approach the school management and relevant authorities to advocate for the rights of this child. Stigma related to HIV still persists and we have to continue raising awareness on HIV, not only focusing on health facilities but also other sectors.” Said Ms. Van* from Bac Ninh province.
Many stories of how women living with and affected by HIV have been helping each other to live a healthier, more fulfilled life were shared at a networking event for women living with and affected by HIV, jointly supported by UNAIDS and UN Women in commemoration of the 2023 World AIDS Day. More than 90 women representing women-led organizations of women living with and affected by HIV from all regions across Viet Nam attended.
The event combined women’s networking with two presentations. The first one was on the existing comprehensive healthcare service package for women living with HIV by the Viet Nam Authority for HIV/AIDS Control (VAAC) and the second one on small credit mechanism for vulnerable women by the Viet Nam Women’s Union. Representatives from women-led organizations also discussed in depth the main findings from a rapid assessment of the needs and capacity of the Viet Nam Network of Women Living with HIV (VNW+) as well as VNW+ engagement in decision making platforms. The assessment was conducted earlier in 2023 by VNW+ with support from the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICWAP) and UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific.
The main areas of need that emerged from that discussion include healthcare for HIV, STIs, cervical cancer and mental health; sustainable livelihood and income generation; addressing discrimination and gender-based violence; and, enhancing the capacity for women living with and affected by HIV and their networks. The participants also came up with recommendations for solutions and actions in the intermediate and longer term.
“Only at this event, I learned of the existence of the TYM** small credit funds for vulnerable women organized by Women’s Union. I wished I have known about TYM earlier and I hope TYM will expand beyond the current 13 provinces so more women in need can get help.”
“We need not only the small credit, but it’s also more important to have orientation for suitable occupation/business that will differ across geographical regions and the profile of women’s group. We also need the skills to effectively manage the funds so it will multiple and in turn can benefit more women.”
Such comments were echoed by many women during the in-depth group discussion.
Addressing VNW+, Ms Caroline Nyamayemombe, acting Head of UN Women in Viet Nam, emphasized the significance of having this networking event on the eve of World AIDS Day and the 16 Days campaign for ending all forms of violence against women.
“People living with HIV including women living with HIV need to have equal chances to access health care and treatment services, resources and opportunities for livelihood for them to live healthy lives and make a contribution to Viet Nam’s development. We need to not only speak up about women’s issues and struggles but also about what women have been able to do for each other and women’s leadership. To address women’s issues we need to work collectively and with innovative partnerships across sectors and organizations. Let us ensure we create opportunities for WLHIV in all their diversities to participate at all levels. UN agencies will be with you on this.”
*Not their real names
**TYM: Abbreviation of the name of a small credit funds for vulnerable women established and operated by Viet Nam Women’s Union
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women