Young women and girls who are HIV positive are often victims of repeat victimisation. Many were sexually abused as children, and were shunned after trying to name their abusers, who are often family members. For them, stigma against persons living with HIV is one more thing to overcome.
Alicia (alias), shares her story below about facing stigma by her own family. She is one of many young women being supported by the NGO EVE for Life to help them live healthily while being HIV positive and to overcome the trauma of sexual abuse. Through counselling and home visits, EVE also helps young women like Alicia and their families to navigate the difficulties of coming to terms and living with HIV.
Lack of parental guidance
“I didn’t have a mother to stand up for me. I didn’t have that type of mother to show me right from wrong. Every time I went to her she would say I got a man to get what I want.
“So I just did what she said, since she was my mother. I said I would try on my own. I started having more than one partner.
“I got slim. I told my cousin I was feeling body changes.
“I borrowed J$500 and asked my cousin to go to the hospital with me. When I got to the hospital and they called my name, I told the doctor I wanted to do every test, even for cancer.
Started to get sick
“I did the HIV test and when I collected the results I got a blank paper. So I asked my cousin to look at it. She said she didn’t see anything on it. A couple weeks after, a lady came to my house and said me and my mother should come by the health centre.
“I told my mother and she said ‘I hope you’re not pregnant’. The morning when I went there the lady asked me if I did a blood test, I told her yes. She said you know that you have… and she paused for a while… and then said ‘Do you know that you have HIV?’ At the time I didn’t get any counselling or an appointment to go to the clinic. I just went home.
She says I am ‘walking dead’
“It was very hard. I remember before I got home, the rumours started that I was either pregnant or I had HIV. When people didn’t see pregnancy, then they thought it was HIV.
“My mother cried. She wasn’t a support back then, and she still isn’t now. We quarrel a lot. When we argue, she tells me to remember that I will die soon, that I am walking dead. So, I really don’t have a close relationship with my mother.”
About EVE for Life
EVE for Life is a non-governmental organization that was founded in 2008 in response to a dire need for support to women and children living with or affected by HIV and AIDS. EVE for Life’s programmes support and empower survivors of sexual violence and provide mentorship to young mothers, some of whom are living with HIV/AIDS.
This includes monthly support group meetings, professional counselling, access to adult Life Coaches and peer Mentor Moms. Mentor Moms also host sessions in public health and second-chance education facilities in high HIV prevalence parishes.
UNICEF Jamaica supports EVE for Life programmes in seven parishes with the highest prevalence of HIV in St. Ann, St. Mary, Trelawny, St. James, Westmoreland, Hanover and St. Elizabeth.
In 2018, EVE for Life’s programmes impact 90 young women as direct beneficiaries. The Mentor Mom programme is one of EVE for Life’s key strategies, providing peer-to-peer prevention interventions and mentorship to other HIV-positive young mothers. This helps young clients to better access services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, as well as follow-up with young mothers and their babies after they leave the hospital.