Community-based organization in Nepal supports women living with HIV

The Red Ribbon Award is given every two years to exceptional community-based organizations around the world. The winners of the most recent edition of the award were announced earlier this summer at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. Chitwan Sakriya Women’s Foundation in Nepal was one of the winners recognized for their inspiring work. UNAIDS spoke to Dikshya Rimal, President of Chitwan Sakriya Women’s Foundation about this huge achievement.

UNAIDS: How did you come to start the Chitwan Sakriya Women’s foundation?

Dikshya : I have been living with HIV for 15 years. I contracted the virus from my husband who used drugs a lot. I married him at the age of 18 and a year later, I gave birth to a baby girl, who died. That’s when we found out that we were HIV positive. My husband never stopped taking drugs, so I divorced him.

I left my husband and his home. But it wasn’t easy for me – as an HIV positive woman.  It was so difficult to even find a place to live! After a lot of struggle, I won an award called Miss HIV Stigma Free Context, which helped me gain a lot of recognition. People started looking at me differently.  That’s what inspired me to start Chitwan Sarkiya Women’s Foundation – so that other women like me could walk with pride.

I started it because I realized that women living with HIV in Nepal are not able find work. My in-laws refused to believe that I contracted HIV from my husband. Instead, they blamed it on me because I used to work. They claimed that women get HIV because they go out to work so women shouldn’t work.

I wanted to do something to help women who were in the same situation as me. I didn’t want other Dikshya’s to go through what this Dikshya did.

UNAIDS:  Can you please tell us about the work of Chitwan Sarkiya Women’s Foundation?

Dikshya : Chitwan Sakriya provides all sorts of  treatment, support and care  to people living with HIV,  regardless of their gender, caste, or background. Chitwan Sakriya means Active Group.  I wanted to do something different. Chitwan is also a local district’s name – it’s a different name because I wanted to portray that we are a unique group here for a unique purpose. The organization is run by women.  We have a total of 31 women staff members.

UNAIDS: How does it feel to win the Red Ribbon Award?

Dikshya :In 2009, I was part of an organization that won a Red Ribbon Award. That’s when I dreamt that someday my organization would win this award for good work. We applied and it was such a surprise that we won it! We wanted to be recognized for all the work we did. It is an amazing feeling. It brought an ordinary woman living with HIV to an international platform. We thought only educated people got this award. This made us realize that anyone with the passion and will to do good work could win the award. This award isn’t based on our educational qualifications; it is based on what we did for the community. That’s what makes it so special to us.

UNAIDS: What are the typical challenges women living with HIV face in Nepal?

Dikshya: Migrant workers go abroad to work and many times come back with HIV – they then transmit the virus to their wives and their children. Men in Nepal never admit that they are living with HIV. There are so many people who take the medication in hiding – it takes a long time to accept the truth. The stigma that comes with HIV is the biggest challenge that people face. They are scared and they refuse to accept it and if they don’t accept the problem, they are not able to find the solution for it. Those that come out openly with their status, they and their families are stigmatized.

Children are our biggest challenge because they don’t understand. They don’t know what illness they have and they don’t realize why they are stigmatized.

UNAIDS: How does Chitwan Sakriya Women’s Foundation try to support people living with HIV?

Dikshya: We do a lot of advocacy events. There was no programme for children so we organized an event called the Basket-fund, where money was set aside for children living with HIV. The fund takes care of their school fees, school supplies and other essential items.

HIV women who are disowned and discriminated against by their families are helped by us. We help them start up small enterprises so that they can take care of themselves. But this is not enough. There are too many people and too little resources.

There should be more vocational trainings and other income generating programmes put in place for women – they can learn to take care of themselves and their children. Instead of giving the women funds, we should as a society be training them with the skills to be able to do this for themselves.

UNAIDS: Chitwan Sakriya Women’s Foundation is a community based organization, do you believe that sets you apart from other organizations?

Dikshya: Yes, we work for women, we work for men, we work for everyone. Other organizations  do work for the community but we say that we ARE the community. What sets us apart is that we as the community know exactly what is going on in the community.  We have all been through it and that’s why we don’t just sympathize, we can empathize with the needs of the community. We are part of it, we know it inside and out.

UNAIDS: What are your plans for the future?

Dikshya: We plan to use the funds we received from the Red Ribbon Award for more awareness raising programmes. We plan to conduct more street plays on HIV and tackle stigma and discrimination.

I have always wanted to help people. The funds, the recognition will all be worthwhile if I am able to help many people. I want to use this recognition mainly to remove stigma. I want zero discrimination. I want people in Nepal and all around the world to realize that there really is no difference between HIV positive and HIV negative people – we are all the same. We all deserve the same.

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