Health & Medicine

Women’s soccer fights HIV stigma in Zimbabwe

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs


Image from the film The Positive Ladies Soccer Club

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A significant stigma still surrounds HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe, according to reporter Dan Isaacs of the BBC. "It's a real problem for people coming out, if they have AIDS," Isaacs told "The Takeaway." A 16-team women's soccer league is fighting against that stigma, bringing the issue of HIV and AIDS out in the open.

Of the league's coaches, Chris Sambo, told Isaacs how the teams were founded: "We had women who are HIV positive and living positively with HIV and AIDS who approached us and said that they wanted to play football. They thought it was a very effective way of de-stigmatizing HIV and AIDS."

The women's games are played before major men's soccer matches and league games. Isaacs followed one team, the ARV Swallows, whose name was a reference to the Anti-Retroviral drugs (ARVs) that are used to treat the disease. Vans are always present at the games, where people can receive testing for the disease and information about treatment.

In spite of the league's benefits both fighting and de-stigmatizing the disease, not everyone in the country is cheering about the games. Some men don't want to let the women play on the same stadium as the men, and some believe it's bad luck. According to Isaacs, the opposition is an example of how many in the country are hesitant to engage with the issue of HIV and AIDS.

The games also clash with soccer's traditionally male-dominated culture. In a trailer for "The Positive Ladies Soccer Club," film a film about the league, a man explains: "The wife is supposed to be at home cooking, having babies. So now if she starts playing soccer, then she has to go to Europe, she has to go to the USA. She can't have my babies."

Much of the opposition disappears, however, once the games begin. "Clearly when the matches are on," Isaacs reports, "they're very entertaining and people love them."

"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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