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Angela: If women united, we could prevent HIV

Angela (not real name) is a nurse and midwife who came from Zambia to the UK in 2002. She was diagnosed with HIV in 2005. When I was working in Zambia as a midwife, some women

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Angela (not real name) is a nurse and midwife who came from Zambia to the UK in 2002. She was diagnosed with HIV in 2005.

When I was working in Zambia as a midwife, some women would say to me: “The moment my husband finds out I’m on the pill will be the end of the world.”

Do you know what we’d tell them to do to hide their tablets?

Put it in a bag of mielie-meal or a bag of rice, right at the bottom, because in African society a man doesn’t cook. If you put those pills right at the bottom of the bag, he will not know.

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If men cannot even allow women to take the pill, how easy do you think it is to talk about using a condom?

Woman were dying with ruptured uterus’ because the uterus becomes weak. Eleven pregnancies. The man still wants that woman to have more children! We are very, very vulnerable in African society.

I came to the UK in 2002 as an economic migrant. I worked in health and social care in various care homes and supported living. Then I was diagnosed with HIV in 2005. It was devastating. I just broke down. I cried my eyes out.

I thought it was the end of the world. There is that bitterness, anger, denial. Is it worth living anymore? The worst thing was thinking, I’m a nurse- how are people going to look at me?

I tried to figure out how, where, when I had got it. There was no answer.

There are very, very few women in African society who will stand up for themselves. A lot of them are just dying in silence. Those who survive without having HIV, they are lucky. Very, very lucky.

When you get married, nobody talks about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, prevention. It’s not talked about in our African society. All they see is that you are growing breasts, and they say: “Oh, you are ready for marriage.”

I’m living a life of regrets today. Even when I could see tell-tale signs that my husband had a sexually transmitted disease, as educated as I am as a nurse, I couldn’t talk about it.

You are not regarded as someone who has a voice, a man is the head of the house. Even when things go wrong, people say: “Oh no, don’t worry, bear with them. Just stay there for the sake of the children.” How are we going to change this, how do women face it?

Coming to the UK has really changed my life and attitude. I used to stand up for myself in Zambia, but not to this degree.

After I got diagnosed, I told myself, this is no time to start pointing fingers at my husband. I had to close that door and look at the current problem. How do I go forward from here? How do I deal with this situation?

I felt there was no time for me to cry over the spilt milk. From the time I was diagnosed to date, I haven’t pointed a finger at him.

The only thing I need to do is manage that situation, and teach others to learn from what we have gone through. I want to educate women. It’s all about education. How much do people know? Is it talked about in schools? It has to start from the grassroots. Some people only get to know about it when they are in university, and by that time some of them have already caught the disease.

If we were there to advocate for ourselves, today’s children wouldn’t be born with HIV. That makes me feel sad. If only we could stand up and talk for ourselves, because we are always managed by men in the homes.

They say a peaceful home is determined by the woman. We are the home-makers, we are the peace-makers so if we can stand up as well to address these issues then we will get somewhere. If we just get united and merge together as one, I think we’d do a great job of preventing HIV.

1000women@naz.org.uk

1000women is a platform for minority ethnic women to tell their own stories, on their terms. To find out more about joining the team or sharing your story, write to 1000women@naz.org.uk

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