It is a blisteringly hot day in the city of Sangli in Maharashtra, a southern state in India. A group of women and men living with HIV have come together at the Aamhich Aamache Drop-In Center (DIC) to talk. Several women tell harrowing stories of the stigma and discrimination they received at the hands of their family and community. Speaking in a whisper, a man talks of his wife who, after months of such stigma, took her own life, leaving him behind to raise their children.
As time passes, though, the stories move from despair to triumph. Many of the women are involved in income-generating activities which, for the first time in their lives, provide them with economic stability and freedom. Men and women alike describe how addressing their own internalized stigma has allowed them to advocate for themselves with clinic staff, service agencies, and communities, demanding that their rights be honored and they be treated and cared for with dignity and respect. They are able to better navigate a complex system of clinical and social support services, with the assistance of counselors and peer advocates.