Dreams of the “Invisible” Women in Kyrgyzstan

Author: Grana Ziia, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan

A photo exhibition “Dreams of the Invisible Women” was held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan from November 25 to December 10, 2018. The exhibition, which was held in the centre of Bishkek and in the venues popular among young people, allowed women suffering from violence, discrimination, living with HIV or using drugs as well as LBT women to send a message to the society: “We are here! We also love and are loved, we deserve to be happy and have equal rights.”

The photo exhibition was initiated by Asteria Foundation with the UNAIDS support. The photo models were participants of Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations project. The exhibition was held within the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, and its opening was dedicated to the World AIDS Day.

“Invisible women” face violence, they become hostage to an endless cycle of abuse, guilt and discrimination. People judge them and tell them: “That’s all your fault!” Often, drugs are the only way for them to run away from their pain, shame and despair. Due to the social stigma, women from the key populations almost never seek help, they are afraid that people will not understand them and will reject them. That is why their problems are invisible for the state and for the society,” says Irena Ermolayeva, Director of the Asteria Charitable Foundation.

Asteria’s statistics confirm this situation. According to the data available, all women from vulnerable populations who have families or intimate partners are exposed to different forms of violence. However, 80% of such women do not seek any help as they are afraid to face stigma and discrimination again.

“This campaign is very important for us. It opens new opportunities for women who use drugs, lesbians, trans women, women living with HIV and women who suffer from violence and show the issue from a different perspective. The main goal of the exhibition is not to “draw” a victim and not to label women, but to focus on the fact that first of all they are human beings and, thus, should have equal rights. I hope that this campaign will change the attitude of our society to thousands of women who are the same as the heroines of our exhibition,” says Irena Ermolayeva.

“Invisible women” are first and foremost someone’s mothers, who love and are loved, someone’s friends and relatives. They need the society to stop viewing them as a problem and to recognize their right to live free, happy and safe lives. They dream to be protected by law and by the state.

The Photo Exhibition ‘Life in the Shadow’ was Shown in the Netherlands

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

Last week the photo exhibition ‘Life in the Shadow’ was brought to the Netherlands by public Foundation ‘AIDS Foundation East-West in Kazakhstan.’ It was possible to see the images of people affected by HIV and tuberculosis during Wolfheze workshops in the Hague on 31 May – 2 June.

The main goal of the exhibition is to reduce stigma and discrimination against people with HIV and tuberculosis.

“We were very lucky with the opportunity to bring the exhibition to the Netherlands and show it to the bigger number of people,” the project manager of AFEW Kazakhstan Kristina Zhorayeva is saying. “Our models were very brave to show their faces and share their personal stories. They wanted to tell people that they are not different and they also have dreams and hopes.”

At the end of March the photo exhibition ‘Life in the Shadow’ was shown in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Some people from Kazakhstan saw the images for the first time in the Netherlands though.

“I have heard about this exhibition from AFEW, and today I saw it in the Netherlands even though it was displayed in my native Almaty,” the head doctor of one of the private clinics of Almaty Galiya Tulebayeva is smiling. “I look at these pictures of the patients with pleasure. It is great to see that there are smiles on their faces and they are in positive mood.”

As of February 2017, in Kazakhstan there were registered 29,568 HIV cases. According to the official data, in 2016 there were 14,345 tuberculosis patients registered in the country.

Visitors reviews of the photo exhibition ‘Life in the Shadow’

Jamshid Gadoev, WHO Country Office for Combating Tuberculosis, Hepatitis and HIV-AIDS in Uzbekistan:

– Only brave people can show themselves in such a way. They got sick and went through the processes that other people are going through now and do not hesitate to show all of this. On each photo I see a smile. Probably, they are happy with their treatment and are glad that they were rescued. They seem to be happy with their lives.

We also published a book and made a video about what tuberculosis patients feel before, during and after their treatment. We asked our patients to associate tuberculosis with some color, and children were asked to associate it with color and with the animal. Many people said that the disease for them is associated with red, yellow or black. Children usually said that their illness is a red teddy bear. Adults told that for them tuberculosis is black and is associated with the sound of a trumpet. After treatment, these associations often change and colors become brighter.

Alexei Bobrik, WHO technical specialist on HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis, WHO Country Office, Ukraine:

– To overcome the burden of these diseases, it is necessary to talk about this problem so that the population knows about it, and the negative attitude towards the diseases decreases with time. It is necessary to communicate information, so that there is no stigma and discrimination. We must know that normal people are vulnerable to these serious diseases as well.

Roman Dudnik: “People with HIV and Tuberculosis are the Same as We Are”

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

A photo exhibition dedicated to the World Tuberculosis Day will be opened in Almaty, Kazakhstan on March 18. The purpose of this exhibition is to show that people living with HIV or tuberculosis are the same as everyone else. This exhibition is one of the first important public events held by AFEW-Kazakhstan in 2017. We are talking about this and discussing other plans for this year with the executive director of AIDS Foundation East-West in Kazakhstan, Roman Dudnik.

– How was the year of 2016 for you? What were the new and exciting things that happened?

– Even though the year of 2016 was difficult, it was successful for us. We moved to a different office. Before, we were in the small office building. Now we are in the new building with much more space. The repairs were made based on our requirements, using our colours. There is a very good energy here, and it helps to work good.
In 2016 we finished the first part of the project HIV React that is financed by USAID/Central Asia, and we got the extension for the next three years. This is our main project. It is regional: we work in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Being the part of this project, we are working in preventing HIV among injecting drug users in prisons. We also work with people living with HIV who are getting ready to be released, and those who are already released. With specially developed START plus program, we prepare a person for his release two months before it happens, and then continue to work with a person for another four months after the release. Additionally, we train medical and non-medical staff of correctional facilities and employees of non-governmental organizations. This program is unique and does not work in many countries of the world. All efforts are aimed at preventing HIV infection and supporting those who live with HIV. The main goal, of course, is to encourage a person to get tested for HIV. If the test is positive, then we send a person to the AIDS centre, and we motivate him to start treatment with antiretroviral medicine, if necessary. We also help to restore needed documents, find jobs, renew social connections. This program is unique because it has a human face. We are aimed at a specific person, at solving of his or her problems. We also try to form skills so that people can solve their problems in the future themselves.

– Working in three countries in Central Asia with the same groups of population in HIV React project, can you observe the common tendencies?

– The general trends in all three countries are that HIV in places of detention exists, and the number of new cases of HIV transmission is increasing. Convicts is the group that requires intense attention and constant work. There is a very high level of stigma from prison staff. Of course, the reason for this is a lack of information, and this is what we are trying to correct through the trainings. The most successful project is implemented in Kyrgyzstan, where the criminal executive system is more open and sympathetic to such activities. In Kazakhstan and Tajikistan it is a little more difficult, but despite this, we manage to work and implement all planned activities within the framework of the project.

– Besides this, what were other projects that you worked on in 2016? 

– Since January we started with the new City Health project with the financial support of the Global Fund, where the main grant recipient is the International Charitable Foundation “Alliance for Public Health”. The project works in five cities of the EECA region. We are responsible for work in Almaty. Implementing this project, we will involve the city administration in the prevention of HIV infection among vulnerable groups: injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, and sex workers. We plan to create a city council on HIV/AIDS. We know that the project is not simple, but it is interesting for us. For Almaty, the project is very important, since it is the most populated city in the country, and the problem of HIV infection is especially relevant here. It will be important for us to make this a successful model and to duplicate this experience to other cities and countries.

– A year ago you had a school of tolerance, the goal of which was to reduce stigma on the part of health care providers. Please, tell us if you can see the results of this school?

– It is difficult and too early to talk about the results. Stigma and discrimination are big problems for Kazakhstan and whole Central Asia, and this is one of our main areas of work. One school of tolerance cannot solve this issue. Without any doubt, there is a big difference in how people come to the training, and what they think after three or five days of the training. In our training, we focus on the personal qualities of a person, perform the situations when the participant himself acts as a client or the representative of a vulnerable group, and is experiencing everything what the client is experiencing by himself. Human intolerance was formed long ago, and one year of work cannot change it. Nevertheless, there is already some progress in this field.

– On the 18th of March you will have the photo exhibition dedicated to the World Tuberculosis Day. Please, tell us more about it.

– The exhibition is intersecting with the topic of stigma and discrimination. We invite everybody to come and see it. It will be held from 18 to 31 of March in the gallery June 24. During the exhibition, there will be master classes, lectures, and talks with people who are depicted on the photos. On the photos, there are 15 Kazakhstani people who live with HIV, or who were cured of tuberculosis. The name of the exhibition Life in the Shadow speaks for itself, because due to the human ignorance, the heroes of our photos should hide their diagnosis from others and live with their problem alone in fear. Now they have opened their faces for the exhibition and they are not afraid to share their experiences. By each photo, there is a written piece with the story of the person: what he was going through, what he was thinking about. The purpose of the exhibition is to shed light on everyday life of people affected by HIV and tuberculosis. They are just like us. The only difference is that they know their diagnosis and they have to fight for their health. Myths and prejudices about HIV and tuberculosis make them hide this part of their lives. Although, the understanding and support of others is what helps them to defeat the disease. The exhibition is positive; people are smiling on the photos. We made only colour photos that show people in everyday life: in the flower shop, in the metro, during painting. During the exhibition, we will tell the visitors about HIV and tuberculosis, tolerance. We will also distribute flyers with the information about where you can bring, for example, bags with clothes that are no longer needed and help people who live with HIV in such a way.

– Even though it is almost the end of the first quarter of 2017, I still would like to ask you about the plans of AFEW-Kazakhstan for this year.

– We plan to work with our projects further. In April, we will be having big regional training about gender violence. We already invited a very good professional in this field to be our trainer. This is a new topic for us, and everything new is interesting for us.