Leila and Her Smiling Eyes

Speeches Shim

Monday, April 26, 2021
Leila featured above
Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) activity

First-line support for people experiencing intimate partner violence

Leila is 45 years old. She lives with her four children in Pavlodar, a small industrial city in the North-East of Kazakhstan. 

She greets everyone with a warm smile. It is the kind of smile that lights up her entire face. Even her eyes are smiling. Leila is very energetic; in a self-help group, she shares her story openly with no hesitance, believing that it can help someone else. She is strong, bubbly, and intelligent. 

For those who don't know that intimate partner violence can happen to anyone, it could be hard to believe that she was once in a violent relationship.

Leila had a difficult relationship with her abusive boyfriend. She left home several times. During one of the break-ups with him, she met another young man, from whom she acquired HIV.

When she received the HIV-positive result, Leila was shocked and stressed. By this time, she had got back with her boyfriend, but once he learned about her HIV status, he began humiliating her even more. He threatened to tell her relatives and neighbors and sometimes used physical abuse.

At the time of her HIV diagnosis, Leila met Alexander, a peer navigator from the community-based organization called “You Are Not Alone.” This organization provides support and community services to people living with HIV. Through the USAID- and PEPFAR-supported Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) activity, its peer navigators were also trained to provide services on gender-based and intimate partner violence. These peer navigators now conduct intimate partner violence identification and offer first-line support - also known as LIVES* - in line with the latest World Health Organization recommendations. 

*First-line support for intimate partner violence responds to both emotional and practical needs at the same time. The letters in the word "LIVES" stand for five tasks that can support people experiencing violence: LISTEN, INQUIRE ABOUT NEEDS, VALIDATE, ENHANCE SAFETY, SUPPORT.

The peer navigators know that anyone can be subjected to intimate partner violence, especially during COVID, as was the case for Leila. Therefore, the peer navigators ask about intimate partner violence during community-based case management services to people living with HIV and when offering index testing to the partners of people living with HIV, which must only be done if it is safe for the clients.

“During counseling on HIV and antiretroviral therapy (ART)*, Alexander asked me if I feel safe. It was the first time when I felt someone can hear me out, so I shared about my situation. Alexander supported me and offered a consultation with a psychologist, a lawyer, and I learned about the possibility of staying at a shelter for social and psychological rehabilitation and adaptation of women with children. Now I know that I have options and a place to go with my children if I decide to leave a man.” 

*ART - HIV treatment

For a woman in Kazakhstan, especially one who is a survivor of violence, it is hard to imagine that she can be heard without being judged and receive acceptance and support. First-line support is provided to all EpiC clients, regardless of gender, who report their experience of violence. A community-based organization psychologist helped Leila to work through her depression through individual meetings and group therapy.

“Here I have found real friends and I understand now that no one has the right to insult and humiliate me. I want to be healthy and live for myself. I started taking ART immediately because I realized that I am still young, that I love myself and want to take care of myself. Most of all I was worried about my children, and I am still amazed at how calmly they reacted to the news about my HIV status. My youngest daughter thinks she is in charge to make sure I take therapy every day. Whenever she hears an alarm on my phone, just like a boss she tells me: “Mommy, it's time! Go take pills!” Leila laughs.

Today we met a strong and empowered woman. Leila smiles openly again. She is not alone!

Between January and March 2021, the EpiC activity in Kazakhstan helped 12 people who applied for help with the problem of intimate partner violence. While this number may seem small, each individual goes on to influence others—be they children, like Leila’s, or other survivors who understand that they too can come forward and receive support without judgment. We look forward to helping many others remember and share their smiles as the project moves ahead.

ABOUT THIS STORY:

The USAID-and PEPFAR-funded Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) activity is designed to break through remaining, persistent barriers to reaching HIV prevention and treatment goals and promote self-reliant management of national HIV programs.

Last updated: March 25, 2022

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