While understanding that there is an inequality between men and women in contracting HIV and treating it is foundational, it is arguably more important to not only consider the implications of this discovery but also use this knowledge to better understand and improve the attitudes of affected women.
There is an overwhelming lack of evidence surrounding women with HIV and their attitudes, but according a photo narrative created for AIDS and Behavior in 2015, the authors believe that understanding the strengths of women living with HIV can promote healthy behavior. To do this, 30 women living with HIV from 3 U.S cities participated in a “photovoice” project. The women participated in three group meetings, an interview individually, and a public exhibit. The participants were 83% African American, and 83% low income. They discussed four key transitions in their life that regarded their healthfulness, spirituality, self-acceptance, and confidence (Teti et al.).
The challenges that these women discussed included the stigma, isolation, mental health, and violence, that comes with living with HIV. A major transformation that many women discussed was living and acting healthier even after their diagnosis. For some, this meant specific changes in their lives such as practicing safe sex, and for others it was a broader sense of just feeling stronger. An example of this is Adele’s (names have been changed to protect confidentiality) photo of a church renovation, as a metaphor for her body. ‘‘This [old church] reminds me of me. My body got weak and needed re-sewing…The new church is the new me,” she said (Teti et al.).
Another common theme several women discussed was overcoming their substance abuse, and actually using HIV as something to save them and help them recover. One woman specifically, named Carlotta, used an image of a long road to symbolize her living with HIV and recovering from her crack cocaine addiction. She said when she got her diagnosis, she already considered herself dead, but her daughter soon woke her to reality. She is now nine years clean (Teti et al.).
Darlene’s struggle was taking her medicine, as many of my other sources have highlighted as a common problem for women living with HIV. When Darlene’s close friend died, however, she used it as a wake-up call. She used a comparison of photos of plants, one wilted and brown juxtaposed with a lively and healthy photo to represent her own health. She says she refused to take medicine for seven years, but when her friend died, and she began to take her medication. Darlene’s life was changed, and she now takes pride in the growth she has made (Teti et al.).
Though women living with HIV do struggle, the narrative due to women’s likelihood to contract the disease often portrays them as victims and does not include the strength and positivity that comes out of it. Attitudes are potentially the most pivotal piece of information in solving the gender inequality in AIDS that has evolved, and will help us as a society to better create prevention plans, direct existing treatments towards affected minority groups, and even create new treatments to end this virus (Teti et al.).