In 2018, INERELA+ Nigeria produced and aired the radio program, “Heal my Heart”. A key priority of the program was to engender discussions that would educate and engage the audiences on issues around stigma and GBV, connecting them to human rights and HIV infection. Faith was an issue which was at the center of the discussions, with emphasis on its instigation and mitigation roles.
The program was aired on Human Rights Radio, a radio station known to have large audience and followership; and reputed for promoting social justice.
Very Engaging Moments
The weekly episodes dwelt on different themes, with various guests bringing their experiences and new perspectives to the discussions. There were episodes that had the most reverberating effects.
Religious leaders and stances are sometimes accused of driving HIV-related stigma and gender injustice, through their narratives that project HIV as a penalty for immorality and subsequent recommendation of spiritual healing or “cleansing”. This opinion came out clearly in one of the episodes that featured a Person Living with HIV (PLHIV) and a pastor. The PLHIV had voiced his disappointment over narratives and demands made by the churches that amplify HIV-related stigma; like demanding for HIV test results as a prerequisite for church weddings and also faith-based healing that led to defaults in HIV treatments.
The pastor was a bit defensive in justifying the practices, particularly as in his view, it was not right “to question the judgement of a man with divine mandate or doubt the power of miracles.” This blew the listeners’ lid, as they immediately reacted. The program became inundated with calls mainly expressing dissatisfaction with the positions of the church with regards to HIV. Some of the callers were people who had faced discrimination in their faith congregations because of their HIV status. The very silent moments were from the callers that had reported deaths of their loved ones who abandoned their treatment on the instructions of their religious leaders. According to a caller, her late sister felt “dirty, angry and worthless”. She saw no reason to live again.
Aisha’s story in another episode, brought the perfect connection between GBV and HIV infection. Being HIV positive, Aisha was one of the few Muslim women living openly with her status and had so far been using her story to inspire many in her faith community.
As is a common practice in the local communities of Northern Nigeria, Aisha was given out in marriage to an older man at the age of 14. She ran away from her marriage, was forced to remarry another man, ran away again and even did same in her third marriage. At that point, the opinion in her community was that no man was going to marry her again, as she was seen to be “non-submissive”. Much later, Aisha was made to marry yet another man, deemed to be the only person who was willing to accept her ‘stubbornness”. Her family insisted that she had to marry that man as her only chance of ever marrying again. She yielded to the pressure.
Aisha got pregnant, but her husband refused to allow her attend ante-natal care. He hired a nurse to attend to her at home. She fell ill and her husband still wouldn’t allow her go to hospital. Her mother had to come and take her to hospital while her husband was away; and it was at that point that Aisha discovered her HIV positive status. She faced a lot of stigma and discrimination and was blamed, due to her reputation for moving from one man to another. She later discovered that her husband had been HIV positive, but he kept it a secret. This episode had many in the discussion calling and shared their experiences, particularly some women who had faced/were facing similar problems.
Each episode of the radio program had its impact. The different perspectives brought deep conversations, debates, agreements and understanding of where more efforts were needed in addressing the issues of interest.
Several violations of rights perpetuated by some members of clergy, although unknowingly, in their demand for compulsory HIV tests, was addressed. Nigeria had passed a law prohibiting any person to demand for a HIV test from another under any circumstances, but many, including the Persons Living with HIV, employers and the clergy were not aware of the law. Many of the PLHIV were glad to know about their rights, some clerics called to acknowledge the fact that the program had informed them and pledged to stop the practice in their churches.
The survivors of GBV and PLHIV who were guests on the radio program inspired many to speak out. There were calls from people who were willing to also tell their stories to help confront the societal ills. There were also solidarity calls from lawyers who gave out their numbers for pro bono services, to legally fight for those who suffer but could not afford to fight back. A case of GBV was taken up immediately by a lawyer who pledged to seek legal redress for the victim.
The radio crossed the barriers, reached the very grassroots and amplified the voices of those who ordinarily wouldn’t have been heard.