International Women’s Day 2016

For more than a century, International Women’s Day (IWD) has been marked as an opportunity to reflect on the fight for gender equality and to act for positive change for women around the world.

As we mark IWD 2016 today, we take a look at the support Waverley Care offers to women living with HIV or Hepatitis C in Scotland.

In many ways, the day-to-day challenges of living with HIV or Hepatitis C are very similar for those living with the conditions. Although individual experiences are always different, there are similar emotions and impacts on people’s physical and mental health.

However, where women’s experiences tend to differ is closely tied to the wider issue of how women are viewed in society – particularly around their role in family life.

Over the years we’ve worked with many women who’ve told us about the anxiety they experience due to the stigma that surrounds HIV and Hepatitis C. Common themes emerge like the impact on relationships, the chances of starting a family and protecting children from being bullied at school.

Body image is another prominent issue, with some HIV medications affecting body shape and adding to the pressure that women generally feel to conform to society’s image of the ‘ideal’ body. This adds to the pressure from stigma with damaging consequences for self-esteem and confidence.

Through our support services, we work alongside women to help them take control and realise that their status isn’t a barrier to a positive family life. This is achieved by talking to women about issues including healthy sex and relationships, coping with pregnancy and parenting, and talking to children and partners about HIV or Hepatitis C.

In everything we do, we look at ways to empower women, supporting them to find ways to express themselves and, in the process, improve self-esteem and confidence. One way we do this is through dedicated support groups, which offer a safe space for women to speak frankly about their experiences with others who know what they’re going through. There is a real social element to the groups in the way that they support one another and provide practical hints and tips to help with day-to-day challenges.

Over the years, art projects have proved popular with the groups as a way to help women express themselves and share their experiences in creative and positive ways. In a current example, Project Venus, our Edinburgh group is working with the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomy Museum, exploring how women have been portrayed in the medical professions through time.

The project has provided a fascinating insight into historic practices that seem ridiculous by today’s standards – for example the ‘science’ behind claims that women’s brains were not sufficiently developed to
understand science and politics!

As part of the project, the women’s group is being invited to produce images and writing about their own experiences with healthcare providers. These will form part of an exhibition to go on display later in the year at the anatomy Museum in Edinburgh.

By encouraging the group to express their own experiences, the project is helping the women to grow in self-esteem and confidence, build supportive friendships and feel comfortable with their HIV status – fitting outcomes for International Women’s Day.