Stigma & Discrimination

Stigma and Discrimination

The Issue: Stigma & Discrimination

Regardless of context, the causes and consequences of stigma and discrimination are the same worldwide. It happens whether you are a woman with HIV or a man who injects drugs; whether you live in a rural or urban community, and in countries as culturally different as Vietnam is to Zambia.

Stigma happens when others devalue a person or a group of people because they are associated with a certain disease, behavior or practice. And like a one-two punch, those who are stigmatized often experience discrimination in some fashion. The effects of both can be even worse for groups who already are marginalized because of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity or substance abuse.

Those who stigmatize people living with HIV falsely believe that the virus is highly contagious and that they could easily become infected. When that happens, others start to view HIV-positive women and men as a threat. Many become isolated – within their homes, in public, at their workplaces. They are further stigmatized by others' assumptions about their moral integrity – such as the belief that they became infected with HIV because they chose to take part in risky behaviors. And because in many countries women are held to a different moral standard than men, they often are disproportionately blamed for HIV in their communities.

In the end, stigma and discrimination continue to undermine prevention, treatment and care of people living with the HIV and AIDS. It hinders those with the virus from telling their partners about their status. It threatens their access to health care. It increases their vulnerability to physical violence. And HIV-related stigma affects people’s ability to earn a living, making it even more difficult for them to lift themselves out of poverty.

Our Role

For more than a decade, ICRW has analyzed and taken action on stigma and discrimination toward people living with HIV. We have found that the key causes of stigma, its impact and its consequences have many more similarities than differences across contexts. ICRW has developed evidence-based tools designed to help communities reduce stigma and discrimination, with particular focus on key populations at higher risk of contracting the virus, including sex workers, mobile populations, injecting drug users and men who have sex with men. From local organizations to international institutions, ICRW draws from research and program experience to advise global entities on how to integrate stigma-reduction strategies into existing HIV and AIDS programs and policies.

To determine how best to measure stigma and discrimination, ICRW and partners are working collaboratively with programmers, evaluation experts, academics and people living with HIV to create a universal set of indicators to provide a rigorous comparison of data across diverse settings and increase investments to reduce stigma.

We also are mobilizing partners to strengthen the global response to HIV stigma and discrimination and maximize investments in HIV prevention, treatment and care. A coalition of organizations, including ICRW, is convening a global knowledge network of advocates, donors, people living with HIV, policymakers, programmers and researchers to share information and tools, build the capacity of network members, and coordinate and expand strategies for reducing HIV stigma and discrimination worldwide.

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