The Queen of Sheba
This story was written by the Association of People Living with HIV (APLHIV) from Pakistan* on the occasion of International Women’s Day
Memories occasionally come flooding through her mind and she remembers those difficult times through flashbacks as vivid as if it was only yesterday. Life wasn’t a bed of roses to start with; born in a poor family, married as a teen in another poor family; hers was the familiar story of countless women across the region.
One day, during an HIV outbreak in one of the provinces, she was tested for HIV. She still remembers the day when someone told her she had something called HIV, and not only her, but her husband as well as her children. When she asked some questions, she could tell she was being dismissed. But inside, those three letters i.e. H*I*V* had stoked the ambers of her curiosity.
Many would have given up hope but not her. She decided to educate herself about HIV and AIDS. She asked questions, many of which were ignored, but she asked again and again until someone gave her the right answer.
She was referred to a tertiary care hospital in Islamabad and she started ARV treatment. She became a leader of her community, educating them about HIV and the importance of adherence to treatment. She opened up her own home as a community centre for anyone to drop in anytime and have a chat over a cup of tea and sympathy. Finally, she had found her sense of purpose and direction.
Over the years she has counselled hundreds of people living with HIV regarding treatment, side effects, co-morbidities and mental health issues as well as providing a shoulder to cry on for all those dealing with the grief of AIDS-related death. She did all this while taking care of her ailing husband, working hard to earn enough to put some food on the table and, worst of all, coping with her own grief of losing two out of her three children.
She is a fighter – fighting for the rights of her community, for her gender, for her friends, for her family – for equitable and dignified access to treatment for all. Her resilience is a shining beacon for all to admire and follow, she has broken taboos and stood up for gender equality; and through sheer determination has become a symbol of hope for her entire community. Her friends call her their Queen who is leading them towards a better and more equitable future and she laughingly reminds them that she is after all named after a Queen, The Queen of Sheba and she proudly says: “My name is Balqees!”
*APLHIV is a national network of HIV communities and associated key populations. APLHIV was established in 2008 to voice and address the human rights issues of people living with HIV and other marginalized populations. APLHIV provides a venue to a wide range of national and international organizations with diverse goals to get together, exchange HIV related resources and engage in partnerships. With support from UNAIDS, APLHIV has established a network led by women living with HIV, known as Positive Female’s Network (POFEN), which provides a vibrant platform to women and girls living with HIV to meaningfully engage in the HIV response.