|How testing positive changed my life||المعرض||حوار|
|“Being young, we can make a difference and change the world. Life has to go on and we have to show it!”|
I got married in 2000 and became pregnant in 2001. In the second month of pregnancy, I attended an unfriendly antenatal clinic and was not convinced to test for HIV. In 2002, I gave birth to my daughter and breastfed her. At that time, I was beginning to have AIDS symptoms, especially on my skin. I asked my husband to go for testing. He refused and we continued to have sex without using protection. After a while, I told him that if he did not go with me for testing, I would stop having sex with him. He finally accepted and, together with our child, we went for HIV testing. The following week, the counsellor informed us that my daughter and I tested HIV positive, and my husband tested HIV negative. He was told to return for another test after three months.
Since that day, my husband changed completely; he moved out of our bedroom and refused to eat the food I prepared. He told all of his relatives in Dar es Salaam that I was HIV positive, and that I knew my HIV status before and wanted to deliberately kill him. As if that was not enough, he then came with his sister demanding to know who the father of our daughter was, as it could not possibly be him, considering his status.
My husband went on stigmatising me and then I became ill and was admitted to hospital. I was retested for my CD4 count and found out that I had only six CD4 cells. From the hospital, my relatives took me to the family house to care for me, but after a while my husband said he wanted me back home, as he too could take good care of me. I refused, and his relatives reminded us that they had paid a dowry for him to marry me through good and bad times, and that according to our traditions and culture I belonged to him. I had no choice but to return. Things got worse and I developed a fungus in my body; even my heart was surrounded by tuberculosis (TB) fluid. Back at the hospital, I told the doctor of my life at home and pleaded with him to admit me for three months to regain my strength. The doctor told my relatives what was happening, so they talked to my husband and took my daughter.
While in hospital, I recalled everything about my life and realised that instead of getting support, a woman can struggle at the hands of someone she loves. I thought if a young woman of my education who knows her rights can face stigma like this, what about those who are not educated, well off and do not know their rights? We women do not have the power to refuse sex when we do not want it. I prayed and promised God that when I regained my strength, I would use my experience and stand up for the rights of women and girls.
I had spiritual counselling and forgave my husband, but I knew that we could no longer live together. I found a house and informed him that we would be leaving in a few days. I have since started a new life with my daughter, Iman, and we are both on ARV medication.
With the advice and assistance of a lawyer, I initially filed for separation, and after a year I will be able to proceed with a divorce. I also got full custody of my daughter. The lawyer also advised me to prepare my will to identify a guardian for her in the event of my death.
I am now a counsellor for different groups and networks of people living with HIV and AIDS and faith based organisations (churches and Muslim groups). I am a Coordinator for the Network of Young People living with HIV and AIDS (NYP+) and the Association of HIV and AIDS activists in Tanzania. I do home based care in partnership with networks of widows and disabled women living with HIV and AIDS.
With the Tanzanian Government Ministries and the private sector, I facilitate HIV and AIDS training in the workplace. With assistance from peers who are living openly with HIV, we are planning outreach to commercial sex workers and other marginalised groups with the aim to creating awareness on HIV and AIDS.
I organise a group of young women and girls living with HIV and AIDS, and link them to primary, secondary schools and the university, initiating discussion of peers about HIV and AIDS. Young women particularly struggle from cultural upbringing, and families leave their children to go out and learn sexuality issues from the world. There is a myth that education encourages young people to engage in sexual activities.
Poverty makes young women anxious to have better things. In Tanzania we have a situation where girls and young women in schools and university are being courted with the promise of a better life. Some families benefit financially from these relationships. I realise that the trust built in these relationships keeps young women from demanding safer sex. The rationale is that if men are able to provide for them, they would not do them harm. Among the students, I more particularly work with five young women living with HIV and AIDS who have been a source of information to me in terms of their personal experiences.
I am now working with the International Community of Women living with HIV and AIDS (ICW) as an Officer for the Parliamentary leadership for Women’s Health (PWH) project in Tanzania. One of my responsibilities is to link HIV positive women to other agencies, partners and parliamentarians, as may be appropriate to enhance HIV and AIDS responses. This job enables me to reach more people in different regions and fulfil my goal of assisting women and girls living with HIV and AIDS to benefit from health services and be represented in policy issues.
Being young, we can make a difference and change the world. Let us as young women join hands in different countries and make an impact on HIV and AIDS. Life has to go on and we have to show it, so stand up and move your faith forward; put it into action. We can do it!!
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