Role of Christian faith for women living with disabilities and HIV in South-South Nigeria
Fubara-Manuel, Jessie Ini
This study seeks to understand how women living with disabilities and HIV cope with the challenges in the society and in the church, and the extent to which Christian faith helps them to face their difficulties. In many African communities, women who have a disability and who live with HIV are faced with a lot of challenges. They are often treated with disdain and have trouble belonging to social or religious gatherings. This is because of the assumption that their disability is a curse from the gods or spirits and that HIV is transmitted through immoral sex. As a result, these women continue to be discriminated against and excluded as part of the social consequences of triple stigma: gender inequality, disability, and HIV. Although there have been many studies on HIV in Africa, there has been very little mention about women with disabilities and how they cope with the challenges of living with HIV. For 6 months, I lived in Port Harcourt and Uyo in South-south Nigeria, to observe, interview and discuss with women with disabilities and HIV. These two cities have high HIV prevalence rates in the country. The women that I interacted with all belong to Bold Outstanding Ladies with Disabilities Hearts Network (BOLD), a non-governmental organisation in Nigeria. I also interviewed several health professionals, BOLD members, and religious leaders. The women with disabilities and HIV shared their stories of exclusion from the life of the church and community. They did not always feel welcomed by the liturgies of the church, or the women’s groups to which they wanted to belong. Many did not find supportive relationships in their families while all expressed how the friendships they had built in BOLD offered space for mutual empowerment. However, there were also stories of the many ways in which these women overcame these challenges because of their faith. This research demonstrates that for these Christian women living with disabilities and HIV, their relationship with Jesus Christ is central to how they cope with the difficulties that they face daily. This relationship gives them a new sense of who they are, as women loved and accepted by Jesus. They find in Jesus Christ a friend and healer, who, they say can do all things for them. This understanding gives them hope to face their daily difficulties, to practice their Christian faith, and to support one another. They did not belittle faith as something that is unimportant to medical or sociological problems. Instead, they affirm that it is their faith that enables them to cope with the difficulties before them, whether in the family, the church, or the wider society. This study offers suggestions on ways to effectively engage with women with disabilities and HIV. These suggestions include the recognition that faith is fundamental to religious people, that women deserve to be treated as persons, and that balanced stories can be affirming for all concerned.