Tahmina Khaidarova is the Director of the Tajikistan Network of Women Living with HIV (TNW Plus). Daniil Kashnitskyi, ECUO Program Advisor, took an interview with her.
– Takhmina, one of the key activities of your organization is HIV prevention among migrants and working with this target group. Could you tell me why you think this area is important?
Thank you so much. First of all, I would like to briefly describe our organization. It was established in 2010 by women living with HIV. In 2011, we got officially registered as an entity, we observed immense stigma and discrimination against women living with HIV in the society.
There was a stereotype that if a woman is HIV-positive, she is a sex worker. And we created a network largely in order to dismantle this stereotype.
Many women were afraid, because the name of the organization itself suggested the possible positive status of an employee or activist.
– How many of you were there?
In the beginning, in 2010 at the first meeting there were forty people, at the moment we have 86 members of the organization throughout the Republic of Tajikistan.
– Are these mostly wives of migrants?
Typically, these are the wives of migrants, the wives of drug users and women who became infected in hospitals, or they got infected through unknown transmission route.
– What are you doing in the context of migration, what activities targeted towards migrants and family members do you implement?
Until 2015, we held various information activities at the community level, we explained what HIV is, what a woman needs to pay attention to when her husband is migrating to Russia for labor. Thus, we held information sessions for women so that they knew how to protect themselves from HIV.
– Is it possible? In the relationships the power is often on the side of men; and, in addition, a woman is not always staying next to her husband and cannot talk to him anytime if he is away on migration.
No, unfortunately, this is not always possible. However, we still trained women so that they are aware about the possible risks. Among them were educated women who understood the risk of infection, but still could not talk to their husband about using a condom, because there is a strong barrier. They said: “I understand how serious the problem is, I understand that I have a risk of infection, I know that two years ago my husband may have had relationships with other women outside of Tajikistan, but I cannot offer my husband to use a condom, he will understand it in a wrong way, he will say, “How do you know about this?” So, you were engaged in some affair during my absence?”. And this is the main barrier. Women understand the need for safe behavior, but they cannot properly persuade their husbands that they need to use a condom until they pass medical testing.
And of course, not all husbands are ready to admit to their wives that they practiced risky behavior. To save the family, they conceal this fact and avoid taking a HIV test.
– We need to work directly with men, right?
Yes, that’s right. We worked in one project, where we raised the awareness of men through religious leaders. We actively worked with religious leaders. At first it was very difficult, because they also had an adverse attitude, but then the women themselves began to meet with them, tell their stories, and they allowed us to establish contacts, began to cooperate and hold activities in mosques. And although their husbands are in Russia, the fathers-in-law go to a mosque regularly.
– That is, the information is transmitted through the parents of a woman’s husband?
Yes, the parents informed their sons that there is such an infection, and that it is necessary to get tested and examined. However, very few grants are allocated for such work and unfortunately there are no sources of financing now. A woman activist from the community faces great challenges. I was educated, I learn from practice, it takes time, and it is very difficult to find donors, because for donors Tajikistan is not quite a priority already.
– We all know that migrants from Tajikistan, when they come to Russia, must undergo HIV testing to obtain a labor patent. How efficient is this practice, in your opinion? What is your attitude to it?
To be honest, I do not like it, because I consider it to be pressure from the Russian Federation towards our migrants.
It would be better to carry out awareness activities, that is, not to force the migrants [to take the test, MV], but to make them better informed. It should be voluntary, a person should understand the importance of their health, it’s not for someone else, not for a patent, but, first of all, for themselves.
I would like to emphasize the second aspect, in order for the migrant to undergo the examination, it is necessary to create proper conditions, therefore, first of all, an agreement between the countries must be concluded. Now, according to the legislation of the Russian Federation, migrants who are tested positive for HIV, are deported, they are not allowed to stay in Russia to work officially, they are forced to return to Tajikistan, but it would be better to create conditions for the detection of HIV infection, an arrangement is needed between the countries and not only with Tajikistan, but also with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan for the treatment of people at the expense of their states, and not at the expense of the Russian Federation. I believe that if there was such an offer, I know that our country is ready to support it, because we now have no problems with obtaining medicines.
– I see, Takhmina, thank you very much for the conversation.