Investing in women can be an important step in preventing and fighting HIV/AIDS. People living with the so-called disease of the century who have managed to overcome stigma and lead a normal life today are unanimous in stating that the challenge was successfully faced with support from the mother or grandmother.

Statistics state that the number of women living with HIV/AIDS is higher than the number of men in the same situation, particularly among younger women in the 25-year age group.

Women are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS due to various factors, ranging from biological, sociocultural, economic, political, and other issues. Many women are victims of domestic, moral and sexual violence, two major avenues leading to contamination by the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.

Women continue being educated to perpetuate standards and patterns of behavior that give man the power to control the lives and sexuality of his partners. Many women, especially in rural areas, continue giving birth at home, in deplorable conditions, and lack access to information and education.

This is a picture that clearly reminds us that a woman is the one who deals with HIV/AIDS and investing in her can be an important step in preventing and combating HIV/AIDS. That is to say, that success in the prevention and fight against HIV/AIDS can have as important way, the change of the picture described above. A change that is not made in a single day. It is a process that can’t open space for exclusion of any kind. Men and women, that is, the whole society must be involved in actions that lead to this change.

In the following accounts of women living with HIV/AIDS, the identity of our interviewees is deliberately omitted for obvious reasons. Let’s resort to fictitious names.

“Esperança” says she has been living with HIV/AIDS for 13 years and says she owes much to her deceased mother. “I was able to overcome with the help of family, siblings and friends. One of the biggest secrets in order to overcome was to personally encourage myself through my late mother. She has helped me a lot to still be alive today.”

“Esperança” says that the woman is the one who is better able to give shelter to people living with HIV/AIDS, a power that in the meanwhile continues to be denied by the society, which translates into discrimination of patients through sex, with the woman at a disadvantage.

“I was very discriminated in the area, within the family some people discriminated me, I suffered a lot, the person who gave me strength was my deceased mother, poor person, she lost her life. I suffered a lot, if I did not die, I did not think about focusing on me, it was because she was always saying: daughter, this is a disease, suppose this disease is a chronic disease, it will pass. I also had help from my uncle, a doctor who works at Maputo Central Hospital. He always said: my daughter, have strength, life has not stopped. Have hope, one day you will return to work. I put all this in my head and today I’m here.”

In societies such as Mozambique, women bear the heavy burden of being the mother of humanity and of all the evils that occur in a family, which also makes it difficult to prevent and combat HIV/AIDS. This is the view of “Hope”, who has been living with HIV/AIDS for 17 years.

“Especially in us, it is difficult to tell our husbands that I am in this situation, because he will react by saying that the contamination was sexual in an extramarital relationship, when this is not the only route of HIV transmission.

The advice I give to other women is that they don’t fail to inform their husbands whenever they become aware of their serostatus. When you don’t inform your husbands there is a risk of harm to the treatment, relapses and reinfection, and the two may die leaving orphaned children.”

Among people living with HIV/AIDS the woman takes the lead in counseling other patients, inspired by her noble mission to be a mother, said “Rosita”, a patient with AIDS.

“I am an activist, I help people who come to this place (DREAM Health Center next to Machava General Hospital) for the first time. I give lectures, I advise people who are still far, don’t know what is going on, they are in the dark. I make them understand that AIDS is not a seven-headed bug, it’s a chronic disease, malaria is worse than AIDS. Malaria kills from today until tomorrow, but you only have to comply, medicate. I am an example, no one can imagine my situation today until I declare myself. So my job here at the Center is to advise people who come for the first time, to give moral support, to give lectures, to give homework assistance, to take care of children, to tell mothers not to be deceived. It is the two that manage to live, if I am HIV positive and don’t reveal to my partner at home, I am not doing treatment, I am shortening my own life. My advice is that we should inform our partners. You can’t imagine how many partners have already abandoned me, but in the end I won the victory by telling people,” Rosita said.

“Tristeza”, another infected woman, told us that she has been living with HIV/AIDS for 16 years and also owes much to her mother. “Thank God, when I found out my mother supported me a lot, but I lost my marriage, I lost my husband. I was the first to get sick and he kicked me out with three kids. But my mother supported me so much, I also accepted and encouraged myself. I took the test; I became aware of my situation and said to myself: I am a mother, I

have three children, and they need me. I have to accept myself and fight for life. This was crucial to being able to walk to this day. I’m doing therapy, I’m fine, and I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I’m fine!”

There are more women telling their partners about their HIV status than men. A situation that often leads to immediate and total rejection of the woman, either by the partner or the rest of the family. “Tristeza” is an example of this phenomenon and warns that with these practices the challenge of preventing and fighting HIV/AIDS can hardly be overcome.”

“I got sick and had to talk to my husband. He was not (?) Sick at the time. The fate brought another story. When I was well on treatment, he got sick, we were not together, he was with another woman, he was in another marriage. I learned that he was not well, I approached him, I asked him to help him, because I assumed it was not anything other than AIDS. Unfortunately he didn’t accept until his last day of life. To his bad luck, he ended up losing his life without any treatment. I went through that story that the whole woman passes; I was separated from him eight years ago. When he got sick and died I was accused of witchcraft. Even without being with him, I was the sorceress; I took his life. It was so difficult, it was very sad, because I knew what was happening to him, what took his life, but also not because I didn’t want to help him. Although I was no longer with him I did everything to raise my husband, I can say so. I didn’t want to do it for him, but for my children, because although he was no longer with me I wanted him to be well for my children to look at him and know how to call dad whenever they needed him. But I was not lucky enough to get it. He ended up losing his life, he left me with his three children. They even banned my (older) son from visiting him at the hospital. When the kid learned, with his stepdaughter, that the father was hospitalized, he came and said: Mother, they say that father is hospitalized, I have to look for my father. I said go to your stepmother. He went to talk to her stepmother, and her stepmother

said no, your father is not sick, leave, your father traveled on a duty mission. But the day he lost his life, my brothers-in-law managed to call me to let me know that my children`s father died. They found my mother-in-law and my rival. Grandma when she saw the kid asked: who called you here. Get out of here, go away, we don’t need you here!

“Tristeza” appeals to society to unite without discrimination of any kind, and to know that women have a decisive responsibility for the success of HIV/AIDS prevention and combat. “Woman, as a woman, is a pillar of a family. A man without a woman will never be a man. Children, even if they are in a family where only the father is, without the mother, do not feel like accomplished children. It is true that a mother, alone, can take care of her children. I believe that a woman to feel good, first has to accept herself. Regardless of everything she has to say I’m a woman, I accept myself, whatever. I believe that this can give strength to a woman. In fact, from my experience, I accepted myself first, I looked at the obstacles that existed, the family was not discriminated, there were people who supported me, but outside, in the society, in my street, those people who were friends were the people who discriminated me but I have gained strength, thinking that I am a woman, I am the mother of three children and these children need me. If I don’t do something to be well, who will do it for me, who will do for my children? That was the strength I had, look at my children as a mirror and look at me and I accept myself. This had to be the experience of the whole woman. Woman to your house, your family and to accept, because the man can send you away, marry another woman, discriminate, speak so much with n o value, but worse for a woman who is a mother, she has to accept. A woman who fights for her children is fighting for the society as a whole. I can manage my life and take care of my children.”

Another interviewee living with HIV/AIDS says that the strength of women is such that when capitalized it can help give another direction to strategies for

preventing, combating and mitigate the disease. “I can say that every day is a struggle, it is a victory in the issue of the feminization of HIV because it is an experience of its own, it is not something told. It is something that I lived and I live every day. I communicated with God! I started reading books about AIDS and I was inspired by a South African, I don’t remember if is David, and he said: at least it gives me another five years to live! Except that the five years passed quickly! I saw that five years are nothing, God can give me much more of what I ask for. I was despised by the neighbors, because I was very thin, even some had the courage to tell me you flew, you were paper and followed the wind, but today you are strong! They today can’t believe that I was really sick with HIV/AIDS, today they can’t even tell if I’m infected or not! I have always been happy in dating because I have had the courage to reveal my situation because my partner will always see me doing medication. Even because the first one discovered when I had not yet said anything. When he saw me he said, “Marta,” you didn’t tell me! I talked directly to him, he wanted to abandon me, claiming that he wouldn’t endure this life with me. When I had the second boyfriend, I immediately opened the secret with him and he accepted the situation. It’s been five years. I as a woman have a very strong spirit. I think the woman should be the first to cooperate with the man. Men don’t want to know, even if I say I’m sick, don’t use a condom, don’t accept a test, like to look at beauty first, or want to wait until the last moment of the illness, is when they accept the test. The woman at that moment encourages the man, gives strength and courage. Here we promote lectures and many other initiatives, and I can say that men are really weak. There are, however, also women who can’t test for fear of losing home. But it is very good to take the test, the woman being the first, then the husband and living positively together,” said “Marta.”

In turn, “Milagrosa” complains of being victim of discrimination on the part of her own brother. She says that discrimination is aggravated by her status as a

woman. “It was difficult because I was still studying, I had to interrupt school and many other things because of this disease. I was discriminated in the area, in my neighborhood, until today I say that they don’t look at me well, I have no friends with anyone, I only have friendships with my mother and my sisters. When my brother discovered that I have this disease began to spread the information throughout the neighborhood, but my mother never revealed, she knew how to keep secret, always said that she caught a cough, caught a little allergy. When I had the disease, I had an allergy, I had a bad cough, it was not tuberculosis. I thank God, because I never had tuberculosis. But I went wrong, I was discriminated at school, in the neighborhood, friends, anyway, I was alone. I say that I grew up with this disease. I didn’t have that love, that life that other people take when they are in good health. This was all because of my illness, but I managed to win until today, because I was growing up, my mother giving me strength. She said that your life is not over; you have to be more comfortable to face people, because sometimes I just go out to the Health Office and come back. My life was always like this, I grew up, I started dating. I had a boyfriend, also HIV positive without knowing that he was also HIV positive, when they discovered that I was dating him, they went to inform his aunt with whom he lived. He was a foreigner. I got pregnant and resulted in a daughter. My neighbors tried to get in with my aunt and they ruined everything, I got separated from the father of my daughter, who eventually left (she returned to the country of origin). But I say, thank God, my two daughters are well, they have not been infected, they are very young, they are growing well and overcoming my difficulties. I say, in my state I can’t discriminate the other sister for having the same disease (AIDS) as mine, as much as I know I’m not infected, I have to find a way to give strength and welcome that sister to be well , being the same as I am. But it is something that happened to me and I say that people are now getting more and more alerted, because they know that this disease has come to stay. We who are already inside consider the disease as

malaria, we can’t promote stigma, cannot! The role of the woman is because she is strong and has a secret: she can face a difficult situation, however and as a mother, a mother can never lie to her daughter, even if she is ill, or because she is rude to what a way, or why there is this and that. Mother is mother! For a father it is sometimes difficult to face these situations, because men are weak,” defends “Milagrosa.”

There are examples of women living with HIV/AIDS, very soon they are rejected by their husbands. They have nowhere to go, because even the parents don’t accept them back home. “Regina”, who is also HIV positive, says that she had support only from her brother, who had been rejected because he is also HIV positive.

“When I found out that I was HIV positive, I was a little sick with my family. They rejected me and I was pregnant from my husband. I didn’t tell my husband three years, I had no way of telling him. But in the end I went to see that I was doing the treatment in vain. I ended up opening with him, we were together, five years, my daughter turned six, but we ended up divorcing. He said he couldn’t live with me because he was HIV positive. He even physically raped me. I took the case to my parents, who also rejected me. I continue to treat my brother. My parents don’t know his story, because I went to see the same discrimination and stigma. They forbade me to use the same crockery as cooking pots. When I was fighting with my husband, he called me names like a bitch and more. I told him that just by the name that treats me, for me there is no advantage anymore, I am HIV positive, find out from today, get your life forward, I am such a person. Since you can’t continue living with me, maybe you will catch a person who is not HIV positive, I will also get an HIV positive, let’s live our own way, it is no use for me to be here to deceive you. I’m on treatment and I feel like everyone else. He said he would test when he didn’t

speak and couldn’t walk because he didn’t believe in this disease. For him this disease doesn’t exist,” says Regina. (x)

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