Stigma in the social protection support system

August 12, 2010

Posted by Kate Iorpenda

Senior Adviser on Children and Impact Mitigation, International HIV/AIDS Alliance

The current focus on national social protection schemes that support families to mitigate against the shocks of poverty, natural disaster,  and the impacts of HIV and AIDS is a positive one. But establishing these systems and entitlements  and ensuring the right people have access to them, is a challenge for any country. However even in the countries where these systems are in place the quality of the services provided and the experience of recipients can further stigmatise and exclude.

Alliance India are implementing the CHAHA project, supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, reaching 64, 000 children and their families in four states in India. The programme works to provide a range of support services to the most vulnerable children and their families and also provides strong linkages and referrals to national entitlements such as ration cards, widow’s pensions, guaranteed 100 days employment and nutrition services. These entitlements are critical to strengthening families’ economic security and their access to other services such as education and health. For many the processes of accessing these entitlements are complex and many are not aware of their right to receiving them.

The outreach workers from CHAHA have successfully supported families to understand the processes and applications, however the experience has demonstrated that access alone is not enough.

Damaging experiences

During a project supported family meeting in Pune, in the state of Maharashtra, a women discussed her experience of accessing social welfare supports for her family. She is living with HIV and has an eight-year-old daughter who is HIV positive and a one-year-old son who is HIV negative. Her husband recently died and her in-laws threw her and the children out of the family home, seizing the family ration card, leaving with her with nothing but a few household items that she sold for food. The CHAHA outreach workers helped her get emergency shelter, HIV testing and treatment for her children and other cash and food supports. They had also helped with accessing national social welfare entitlements in particular the widows pension, however when attending the office to receive her 400 INR monthly payment (£5) the officer removed half as a ‘payment’ for supporting her application and also announced her HIV status to a waiting room of people. Visibly distressed by the experience she expressed how she would be too ashamed to visit this office again. Other families reported similar experiences.

Ensure a positive impact

Of course we want to see large scale social protection programmes that support the most vulnerable, in particular families affected by HIV and AIDS. The evidence is clear that they can have a positive impact on household wealth, education attendance and   nutritional status of children.  But in promoting this scale up we must keep in mind that the same stigma, discrimination and corruption that many people living with HIV face in society, also exists within the systems that are supposed to support them. We need to ensure that these vital supports to families are accessible, non- judgemental and fair in order that they can have the positive impact they were intended for.

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