In this world, there are many counties where gender discrimination still exists. It is also one of the major issues in this world. Due to this, women have been facing much violence. Studies showed that globally approximately 35% of women report they were abused in their lifetime.
My home country is also not excluded from the issue of gender discrimination. It is a male dominant country and gender inequality is very visible there. Women have been facing numerous challenges to manage their lives. They face acid attacks, sexual harassment, rape, and discrimination which reduces their quality of life and in some cases can lead to suicide. Due to my own experience with gender discrimination, I experienced the bitter truth of life by having to face challenges to get a good education, being blamed for getting HIV and being excluded from social gatherings.
I wanted to get a good education like everyone else but I got discrimination because of my gender identity. I was sent to simple school compared to my elder brother. We were the only two children of our parents. My brother went to those schools which were very expensive and hard to get admission. My parents said that they loved me more than my brother. They couldn’t send me far from them. They gave me a very good reason to cover that discrimination between daughter and son. So I did my schooling in our local city.
The sad part was that I didn’t even know about this kind of discrimination. But maybe my parents might not have recognized their actions as discrimination. Sometimes people feel that they are doing the right thing but don’t see the part where their actions affect another person’s life. It doesn’t matter if they do it unconsciously. What matters here is how it affects the person being discriminated against.
When I was very young I asked my parents to give me a gift when I passed my exam. My brother got nice gift for getting a good position in his class in his exam. To clarify it in more detail, he was talented in studies so he got very good marks on his exams, whereas I hardly ever passed. He would always get first or second rank in his class. He would get good results all the time. We both worked equally hard to get good marks. It was not my mistake for being given a low score. I also deserved recognition from my parents no matter how big or small the gift would be. So, I asked my parents that they should give something to me for my hard work. I raised my voice for my right to be recognized.
Later in my life, I would face more discrimination when I was blamed for getting HIV. When I was around the age of 27, I was accused by my (ex)husband’s family members. They thought that the HIV was transmitted from me to their good son. In our culture we live in a joint family, so I was living with his family. When they knew about our HIV status, his parents were very upset and used very bad words toward us several times. Especially I was targeted many times with their verbal abuse. They should not have judged me before they knew the real story behind it. Their son was the one who was responsible for it. There are many research studies done in this part of the world that show evidence that housewives get HIV from their husbands who most times don’t know themselves due to lack of education on HIV and how and where to get tested. This virus was the award I got for being honest and loyal to him. In the same way, I again got blamed by my own relatives. They asked me, “Was that you or him who brought this HIV infection?”
To clarify more, I was in the worst condition due to HIV. Sometimes when people don’t have any awareness about HIV and AIDS they think that person who got ill and weak might have gotten the infection first. This wasn’t true. The fact was I wasn’t getting any support so I was mentally, physically and emotionally hurt, which made me very weak. Accusing me at a time when I was very sick wasn’t the right way to treat me. But they did this to me. As a woman getting HIV, it is shameful in my society and culture because of a lack of awareness and education. As my relatives, they didn’t want others to gossip about me being HIV-positive so they wanted to keep it private. But soon enough, some people found out about my HIV status and others found out from me.
Now that people knew about my HIV status, I was excluded from attending several places. My (ex)husband’s parents prohibited us from going to social events. They said that other people might ask about our illness like, what happened? why always got sick? And sometimes his parents would tell them that we were not well and that we were just taking rest at home. Again good excuses were there for us. I took care of him while his family members enjoyed their social gatherings. Almost every month in our cultural communities, people gather at social events for marriages, birthdays, culturally-specific events or religious festivals, etc. His family had a good reputation in the community, so to maintain that they didn’t want my (ex)husband and I to be seen and they didn’t want anyone to know about our HIV status. Due to that I never got chances to be part of those social events. I never wanted to make his family members feel shame because of me. HIV stigma made me feel responsible for other people’s shame.
I was even prohibited from entering the kitchen. They were worried of getting infection from me. In our culture, us daughters-in-law have to take care of the household chores. I fulfilled my responsibility for his family in that part but when I got sick they didn’t care for me. Due to weakness I was coughing often. I got strong order not to enter in the kitchen. I didn’t know which infection they were worried about: the HIV or my cough. I am daughter-in-law with HIV infection, that was the main cause. These types of attitude towards me made my health condition worsen day by day. They spent millions of money for their son’s HIV medicine (ARV) but not for me. He was just watching all that was happening like a statue which made me very sad compared to his family members attitude.
Then I left that house to save my life and I got help from my HIV-positive brothers in the community. I got a place to stay in a convent run by Catholic nuns. They were my life saviours. My poz brothers ran an organization for people living with HIV and AIDS but they didn’t have shelter for women that time, so they referred me to this convent. During that time, I felt that those who didn’t have anyone, God was there for them, so it happened to me. Then I started believing in God and trusting my faith. I was getting better and better and more engaged with the HIV community event. That time I got the chance to take many trainings. By taking those trainings together with education about gender discrimination, I knew then that I suffered because of it plenty of times throughout my journey.
In conclusion, I think other women who might face gender-based violence and discrimination but may not be aware of it due to society’s norms need access to education so they can empower themselves and there needs to be more resources for women so they leave unhealthy and abusive situations. When faced with those issues, I didn’t know I was being discriminated against because of my gender identity. I suffered a lot. I don’t want other women to go through what I went through but I know all over the world, many women are still experiencing this. Everyone should be treated equally no matter their gender. Everyone’s human rights should be protected like the right to education, the right to dignity and respect, and the right to enjoy their lives.
I hope in sharing some part of my journey, people will understand how challenging it is for women all over the world when they are faced with gender discrimination. Although that part of my journey almost killed me, I became a survivor thanks to my faith, the sisters at the convent, and especially to all my peers in the poz community there who helped me build a new life for myself.