The number of women living with HIV increases every day as well as increases in discrimination, inequality, and impoverishment. The lack of inclusive communities that promote healthy coexistence impacts women’s ability to navigate society after a positive diagnosis.
As a community of faith, the church can and should provide support and accompany people living with HIV and AIDS. An open and inclusive community can give hope to women living with HIV and help to prevent discrimination.
Feminization of HIV
The United Nations’ most recent data from 2021 shows that 53% of people living with HIV are women and girls. Many of the women live in impoverished situations and have inadequate information. Moreover, approximately a quarter of people living with HIV do not know they are infected, and not knowing they are infected puts them and others at risk.
Many societies have already marginalized women and girls’ voices and opportunities, but a positive HIV diagnosis adds more burdens and can further close doors. Indeed, the rejection, stigma, and discrimination towards women have a significant impact, especially in a conservative society that does not openly discuss sexuality.
Married and single women are infected every day. The marital and partnership infidelity and promiscuity of men coupled with abuse lead to adverse situations. Patriarchal societies have created a system of double standards with different parameters to measure the behavior of men and women, justifying the mistreatment and exclusion of the female body, leading it to bear great suffering.
The double standard is compounded by the expectations that women should be faithful, passive, modest, submission and resign themselves to all the conditions men set for them.
The virus outbreak walks along with various factors in terms of gender and power relations. The behavioral patterns regulated by an oppressive system show the inequality and abuse in which women live, which creates and maintains vulnerability in the transmission of the virus and, therefore, the feminization of HIV.
Faced with this situation, many women may feel trapped and unable to do something to improve and deal with their condition, losing interest in continuing to live. It is essential to highlight that if medical treatment is accompanied by family support, a good diet, a positive attitude, and participating in a supportive community, infected individuals can manage many aspects of the disease.
Resistance is the action of hope
For women living with HIV, hope is a strength and a spiritual experience since it is related to the search for themselves, the value of their bodies, and the meaning of life. Some women mobilize into support groups. Women are creating an alternative of coexistence that allows them to live in better conditions, creating communities that enable them to face discrimination and impoverishment more effectively.
Living with HIV is no longer a diagnosis of death. Still, a new life condition brings multiple challenges and opportunities to grow as women, show themselves, and assert rights they did not recognize before.
From a pastoral and theological lens, congregations and community members need to be a place of sanctuary and welcome. Individuals may begin to recognize that God walks by their side, restores dignity, and allows them to start the process of restoring their identity of the image they have of themselves and the desire to revalue it, and that they are made in God’s image.
Women are no longer alone; it is God who is beside them walking amid their suffering. Hope is now oriented towards the future, through the transformation of the present, and in the search for the fullness of life.
Inclusive faith communities
The proposal to live in an inclusive community is an alternative to the vertical, authoritarian, and exclusive system that separates and oppresses women living with HIV. We believe that an inclusive community must live the values of the kingdom of God, which allow us to think and resist, a place where we share our experiences and struggles that living with HIV brings.
Undoubtedly, the hope that women have in the certainty that God is with them renews the struggle to continue living. This inclusive community is not only a meeting space; it must be sought to be a space for spiritual development that allows us to grow, liberate ourselves and accompany us in resistance.
As communities of faith, we must believe God gives us a double portion of strength and hope that allows us to become a community that allows itself to be accompanied and to accompany. There is no doubt that God shows God’s presence in all its fullness.
Psychologist and Public Theologian. Yenny Delgado is a native descendant, and has a deep appreciation of her cultural roots. Yenny has worked with social movements and local churches for over a decade, advocating for improved gender equality and ending racism in the Church. She is a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church USA and founder of PUBLICA (www.publicatheology.org). Currently, she is a doctoral student in Science of Religion at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.