Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Anti-discrimination law needed

Published:Thursday | September 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM


I think as a society we generally disagree with the notion of discrimination. It is an often used word whenever Jamaicans feel as if they suffer injustice at the hands of immigration officials or providers of 'high end' services. We don't like the idea of discrimination as a people, particularly when it comes to class and racial discrimination. And yet, somehow, we continue to have challenges with racial and class discrimination within our borders.

Persons living with and affected by HIV, for example, continue to face experiences of discrimination in many aspects of their lives. While it is customary to talk about discriminatory practices in health facilities, I would like to shine a light on my experience of discrimination as a young girl living with HIV a few years ago.

I was attending an all-girls boarding school in Jamaica when I contracted HIV. I was on anti-retroviral (ARVs) medication and had just returned to school from summer break and started fourth form. I understood very well the need to hide the fact that I was living with HIV. As a girl, no matter what your experiences were, society always found a way to blame you for anything sexual happening to you. No matter what, I knew I would be seen as careless and deserving of my situation. The story I went with was that I was diabetic, hence the need to use medication often.

This ruse was not made to last as the side effects of the medication affected my school work and presence. This landed me in the principal's office, who took my medication, did a quick Google search and found out I was living with HIV. The result was that I was asked to leave the school. I guess my education didn't matter at that point.

As an adult, I now know that there is a national policy for the management of HIV in schools, which says there should be no discrimination against students living with HIV. Where was that policy then? Why didn't that policy protect me?

I think there needs to be an anti-discrimination law in place to prevent what happened to me from happening to another young girl.