Workplace environment

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'Uniting for Solidarity, equality and acceptance for people living with HIV within the UN system through awareness raising, policy change and advocacy.'
Is HIV a serious problem in the region where I live and work?

Yes, HIV is a serious problem everywhere. Despite declines in new HIV infections, the AIDS epidemic is far from over and the numbers of new HIV infections are rising in many countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, the most affected region, women account for up to 61% of infections and HIV remains the leading cause of deaths. Most of the epidemics in the Caribbean appear to have stabilized, while a few have declined in urban areas. In Asia, HIV prevalence is highest in South-East Asia, with wide variation in epidemic trends between countries. In the Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa regions, injecting drug use is a major means of HIV transmission. Latin America's epidemic remains generally stable but stigma and discrimination hamper the achievement of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Based on the most recent available information, AIDS-related illness is the 6th most common cause of death in the world.

What are considered stigma and discrimination in the workplace?

Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. It is a form of prejudice that discredits or rejects an individual or group because they are seen, or perceived, to be different. When people act out their prejudice, stigma turns into discrimination. HIV discrimination is the unfair and unjust treatment of an individual based on his or her real or perceived HIV status or other characteristics. Stigmatizing people and discriminating against them breach their fundamental human rights.

Each of us has an important role to play in eliminating HIV-related stigma and discrimination from the UN system workplace.

Stigma and discrimination threaten all of us. All UN system personnel, particularly managers, have a responsibility to stamp out stigma and discrimination. As outlined in Minimum Standard number 10, managerial commitment is imperative for the successful implementation of UN Cares. Not sure what you can do as a manager? As an employee? Make it a priority to focus on eliminating stigma and discrimination, by doing three (or more) of the following things.

  • Attend a HIV learning session and suggest that colleagues do the same.
  • Display your certificate of attendance to a HIV learning session in your workspace.
  • Review the UN preferred terminology for HIV to make sure you are not inadvertently contributing to stigma through your choice of words.
  • Discuss HIV openly with as many people as possible.
  • Wear a red ribbon or UN Cares or UN Plus pin.
  • Display a red ribbon by your desk.
  • Participate in events in response to AIDS.
  • Go to an awareness event or make a contribution on World AIDS Day on 1st December.
  • Volunteer at a local AIDS service organization.
  • Keep informed about HIV and inform your friends and loved ones.

If you are a supervisor you could encourage your team to complete the UN Cares e-course and to participate in UN Cares events that provide information about HIV related stigma and discrimination. Another idea is to contact UN Plus, or a local network of people living with HIV and have a frank dialogue with them.

What impact does stigma and discrimination have on the spread of HIV?

If you are HIV-positive, you may decide not to access care, treatment or counselling services or other entitlements for fear of being ostracized. Stigma and discrimination may also increase physical, psychological and social stress and sometimes cause depression. For those who are HIV-negative, stigma and discrimination may affect your ability to protect yourself and your family from HIV transmission by discouraging you from seeking information, prevention services, or HIV testing. The stigma of HIV is especially strong for members of particular groups such as men who have sex with men, sex workers and people who use drugs. Of particular importance to the UN system, HIV-related stigma and discrimination violate fundamental human rights, such as the right to be free from discrimination, the right to privacy, the right to health, and the right to information and education. In short, all of us who are employed by the UN system have a stake in combating the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV-just as we all have a stake in fighting for other human rights. If you hear a colleague make discriminatory statements or derogatory comments about someone thought to be living with HIV, intervene and explain why these comments are not acceptable. Some of us may not be aware that we are using stigmatizing language or that we are inadvertently contributing to stigma and discrimination. All staff members should avoid discriminatory language in our own day-to-day lives, such as using the terms 'victim' or 'sufferer' to describe someone living with HIV. Make an effort to use and encourage suitable and accurate language and terminology-what you say and how you speak is critical to modelling appropriate behaviour in your community. Avoid negative terms, for example, instead of saying "She is an AIDS victim," say "She is living with HIV." Make sure that your knowledge of HIV is based on facts rather than rumours. Be open to discussing HIV with your colleagues and be prepared to listen to the concerns of others. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Make use of the structures already in place to help protect our rights and well-being at work. These include staff associations or unions, as well as health and safety committees or officers. Such bodies can provide leadership and set a positive example, in addition to working with management to ensure that all measures are in place to promote understanding, respect, and non-discrimination. Despite an underlying assumption that we, in the UN system, are respectful of all people, we all function within certain parameters to define our worlds and our boundaries. It is critical that we consider how we perceive people living with HIV and make sure that we do not act in a way that strengthens stigma or discrimination. This becomes even more important when we live with HIV ourselves, as self-devaluation is very harmful for an individual's well-being.

How can I support colleagues who are living with HIV?

By treating all your colleagues, regardless of their HIV status, as you would want to be treated-with dignity, respect and professionalism.

The Stigma Fuels HIV campaign is an innovative communication campaign sponsored by UN Cares and UN Plus for the United Nations (UN) workplace. Launched in June 2011, the campaign reached 61 UN duty stations, where thousands of UN employees received the campaign's message: in the UN, there is zero tolerance towards stigma and discrimination related to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

More Information
Additional information on stigma and discrimination

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  • Disentangling HIV and AIDS Stigma in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia
    ICRW, in partnership with organizations in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia, led a study of HIV and AIDS-related stigma and discrimination in these three countries. This project, conducted from April 2001 to September 2003, unraveled the complexities around stigma by investigating the causes, manifestations and consequences of HIV and AIDS-related stigma and discrimination in sub-Saharan Africa. This synthesis report presents the principal findings from the research.
  • HIV & AIDS Stigma and Discrimination.
    This website talks about why there is stigma and discrimination, the forms it takes, how it affects us all and what we can do to move forward.