Almost all women in a survey conducted by the UK's leading HIV and sexual health charity have experienced stigma, in a snapshot poll of women living with HIV in Britain released for World Aids Day. Of 106 women polled by Terrence Higgins Trust, 90% had experienced stigma.
The average age range was between 18 and 64, with all women diagnosed in the past 15 years. More than one third said the stigma they experienced was in the workplace, 40% said they experience stigma while dating and 42% said it was from friends.
Mandy Tyson, executive director for services and clinical at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "We want to start a conversation about how we speak and write about HIV. The condition has been a recognised health issue in the UK for more than 30 years now, and the advances in treatment have been staggering; but equally so is that HIV stigma prevails.
"Unfortunately a range of attitudes seem to have remained in the 1980's and linking HIV positive women with promiscuity is disgraceful. It is time that we all stood together to stop stigma. Start today – join the solidarity on social media by taking a selfie with your red ribbon and #StopStigma."
In the survey, 83% of women polled felt a level of self-stigma or stigma that they impose on themselves – more than half blamed themselves, almost two thirds felt ashamed and almost half felt guilty. The poll also revealed 93% of the women do not think the public knows the difference between HIV and Aids.
Ann Marie Byrne, a London grandmother and campaigner who is living with HIV, said women are sometimes forgotten about in public conversations about the virus.
She said: "We are considered to be a lower risk group than say gay men, and yet as women we are stigmatised as much if not more, as the media often portray us as 'promiscuous' and deserving of contracting this virus... social media particularly use words like 'karma' and speak of 'this disgusting disease'.
"We are portrayed as being 'dirty' and less worthy of sympathy than women living with other medical conditions because of our so-called 'lifestyle choices' which of course, is totally untrue. HIV is a virus, not a moral judgment and these kinds of attitudes prevent women from being tested and accessing treatment, which means that the eradication of this virus becomes so much more difficult."
Public Health England figures released earlier in November found that 34,000 women in the UK are living with a diagnosis of HIV. The poll was conducted as part of the Terrence Higgins Trust's #StopStigma campaign for World Aids Day.