Why there’s more to HIV than just a virus

Posted on: 28th November 2016

Life in my Shoes, Body & Soul’s campaign to combat stigma and build empathy, has been working to challenge misperceptions around HIV since it was established in 2011. As we prepare to mark World AIDS Day on Thursday, Kara Winney, coordinator of the Life in my Shoes programme, reflects on some of the ways that misperceptions around the virus can affect people living with HIV, and some of the ways that empathy can help.


Body & Soul has worked for 20 years with people affected by HIV, who must deal on a daily basis with the prejudice that stems from misconceptions around the virus – from mistaken beliefs about its transmission to assumptions about the people infected with it. The goal of Life in my Shoes is to challenge stigma around HIV not simply by providing facts about the virus, but by encouraging people to imagine life in the shoes of someone who is HIV positive.

Part of my role is to go into schools and universities and ask the young people I meet to step into the shoes of another young person living with an invisible difference. It can be any invisible difference, but the example we work with is HIV, as it’s impossible to tell by looking at someone whether they are HIV positive or not, and yet the stigma attached to the virus is so strong. I use our short film Undefeated to engage young people in an open discussion and to reflect on their own prejudices. The aim of the sessions is to draw attention to the power of empathy that exists within us all, and to nurture this power in their everyday lives. Ultimately it is about understanding that small acts of kindness and empathy can make a big difference to individuals – and has the potential to generate a bigger change in society.

We created a series of films (the Spotlight series) to draw out some of the themes that usually come up in discussions around stigma and invisible difference. The films feature testimony from Body & Soul members who describe what it’s like to feel that you don’t belong: hiding the real you from others because you’re afraid how they’ll react if they know the truth; trying to ignore the hate that you can be subjected to; coping with the emotional pain that can literally tear you apart; and dealing with the myths around HIV that fuel the furnace.


Spotlight series trailer

As we prepare to mark World AIDS Day on Thursday, each day this week we will be sharing one of the Spotlight films on our Facebook page to highlight a different aspect of the prejudice faced by people affected by HIV. We will end the week by sharing Undefeated, the short film from Life in my Shoes that explores how it can feel to be hated, just because you are different.

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