We know from our work with partners that the most effective way to combat stigma is to make communities part of the conversation. We already have experience in training and supporting communities to tackle taboos around issues such as disability and sexual and reproductive health.

Disability

In rural Burkina Faso, people with disabilities are often locked out of education and employment, forcing them to become entrepreneurs in the hope of earning enough of an income to survive.

Tigoung Nonma brings together those individuals and offers training, facilities and support to enable them to make a fair living by making and selling artisan products. As well as establishing and managing Tigoung Nonma’s website, our volunteers have been instrumental in popularising the crafts produced by members. We’ve organised exhibitions and displays, partnered with The University of Ougadougou and local hotels to promote the work of the association, and supported Tigoung Nonma to attend local and regional crafts fairs.

At each step of the way, these crafts have enabled us to challenge negative perceptions around disabilities by putting the skills and talents of people with disabilities at the heart of enterprise. Tigoung Nonma is demonstrating that art is changing minds.

Sexual and Reproductive Health

Like mental health, sexual health is stigmatised. In many communities, sexual education is minimal, and access to contraceptives severely limited. Families fear that when young people are informed about sex, they’ll be more likely to practice it.

In Malawi, we’ve partnered with YONECO to give parents the tools they need to support their children. For girls like Melina, a teenage pregnancy can end their hopes of getting the education they need. Her father, Mussa, explains, “I felt that if I continued to support Melina to go to school whilst pregnant, I would be seen to be encouraging a lifestyle that is not acceptable.” We worked with Mussa and other parents to discuss their relationships with their children, and support their daughters to return to school.

We also know that the most effective way to tackle stigma is not always the most direct one. In Tamale, northern Ghana, we’ve work with the Regional Advice and Information Network (RAINS) to tackle sexually transmitted diseases. The stigma around contraception means that even when condoms are available, many people choose not to use them. We worked with RAINS to train ‘non-traditional condom distributors.’ This group of barbers, kiosk owners and seamstresses are now able to sell condoms discretely, which has increased the number of people using condoms.

Where ill health is taboo, it can be deadly. But, our experience in challenging health taboos demonstrates that when we work in partnership with communities and institutions, we’re able to ensure more people have access to the support that they need.