Stigma is a broad term that is used to describe the negative and stereotypical thoughts, attitudes and feelings people may hold about another individual or community on the basis of specific traits like, for example, race, sexual orientation, gender or religion. Stigma has been used to label certain groups as less worthy of respect than others. These attitudes are spread by ignorance, prejudice and discrimination. They are perpetuated when a community is represented in a way that is inaccurate by the media, in popular culture and/or in formal institutions like our educational system.
When people act on their prejudice, stigma turns into discrimination. Discrimination is an action or a decision that affects people negatively. Discrimination can happen on an individual level, for example, getting fired from a job because of a pregnancy or HIV status, being refused an apartment, verbal abuse, inappropriate jokes, harassment, being offered a lower salary, bullying, being rejected by your family. Or it can happen on an institutional level, which is when laws and policies are inadequate, inequitable and fail to protect, all the while resources are unequally distributed.
Discrimination and stigma continue to pose a serious threat to sexual and reproductive health for many groups, including women, trans people, sexual minorities, refugees, people with disabilities, rural communities, Indigenous persons, people living with HIV/AIDS, sex workers and people who are incarcerated. Some individuals suffer discrimination on several grounds at once. The resulting stressors and trauma play no small part in negative health outcomes. They also affect access to care, resources and support. All of which play an important part in our health and the health of our communities.
Addressing stigma and discrimination is crucial to any type of health promotion.
STBBIs and Stigma
There exist a lot of social stigma when it comes to sexually transmitted and blood borne infections. It’s based on the shame, fear, prejudice, discrimination, guilt and lack of knowledge that exists in the world at large when it comes to getting infected, or living with an STI. For example, it’s not rare to see clean people only on dating websites, alluding that those of us having been infected or living with an STBBI are dirty. In spite of the benefits of STI and HIV testing, the fear of stigma and discrimination toward people who catch an STI or are living with a virus like Herpes or HIV creates a barrier for people getting tested, getting treated and getting important information. Breaking down that stigma is vital for ensuring that people access what they need to care for their overall health, including their sexual health.
It’s important that care providers remain sensitive to such factors and work with clients to develop strategies to overcome these barriers and support positive attitudes toward STI testing (including HIV testing) as well as ensure that they provide a welcoming and supportive environment for everyone.
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