COME Uganda is a ministry run by ACCI Associate Field Workers Frank & Michelle Heywood. In 2009, COME Uganda started the Gold group, a self-help group for women who are HIV-positive.
There are well accepted and globally documented links between gender inequality and HIV transmission. In Uganda, gender norms that endorse unequal power relationships between men and women significantly increase women’s risk of HIV transmission. Early marriages, gender based violence, and women’s low economic power, which can lead to women engaging in high-risk behaviour such as transactional sex for survival, are all such examples.
Not only does gender inequality increase their vulnerability to transmission, it also compounds the hardship women living with HIV experience. This is the case for many of the members of COME Uganda’s Gold group. Many of the members live in poverty, are frequently ostracised from their community and rejected by their families due to being HIV+. In many cases they are left to raise their children alone due to abandonment or the death of their spouse. Being a single parent is challenging in any context, but when you live a day-by-day existence in an urban slum without childcare or family support, the challenges are enormous, and it is easy for women to become discouraged and feel hopeless.
The Gold group was designed as a self-help group where women who are HIV+ could support each other and collectively overcome the practical and emotional challenges they face. Each of the members regularly contributes a small amount of money to a group fund which is used to provide members with basic food and necessities when they are sick or experience significant hardship. They have started a sewing course and are learning tailoring and small business skills to enable them to start their own businesses or gain employment to increase their income. They have also started a sewing and handicrafts cooperative and are selling their wares to local and overseas markets. Over the past twelve months 18 women who are HIV-positive have been taught skills and are now making a living on their own.
The Gold group members have clearly demonstrated that as they work together, they are able to overcome the effects of gender disparity and discrimination, and find a renewed sense of hope for their lives. Not only have their outlooks significantly improved, but so have their children’s wellbeing and future outcomes.