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Stigma, Discrimination, and Institutional Violence

WHAI works to foster welcoming, engaging, and respectful community agencies across Ontario that are free of stigma and discrimination.


HIV-related stigma is a negative belief about a person specifically related to either known or perceived HIV status.

HIV has changed substantially in the past 20 years. People living with HIV and engaged in healthcare are living longer, are healthier, experience fewer side effects from medications, are able to have sex with less risk of transmission, and are able to consider pregnancy with little risk of transmission to the baby. Despite this progress, awareness about HIV and related stigma has not been as quick to change.

For many women living with HIV, experiences of stigma and discrimination are common and often co-exist in multiple layers, intersecting with gender, sexual activity, race, income, drug use, physical and mental health, and more. Stigma can impact not just the person living with HIV, but also their family and friends.

of Canadians report at least some discomfort with their children attending a school with a child who is HIV-positive, illustrating how persistent stigma is in our communities.

National Attitudinal Survey on HIV and AIDSopens in a new window

Rates of depression among HIV-positive women from African, Caribbean, and Black communities in Ontario are five times higher than women who are not living with HIV.

Correlates of HIV Stigma in HIV-Positive Womenopens in a new window


Stigma has a significant impact on the health outcomes of people living with HIV and increases women’s risk of contracting HIV.

Strong, supportive social connections are shown to positively impact women’s health. It is important that our community organizations understand stigma, and work to build inclusive, supportive spaces.

Community organizations are an integral part of Ontario’s response to HIV, particularly among women living with HIV or facing systemic risk for HIV acquisition. By creating what we call “welcoming spaces,” women will feel valued for their experience and expertise without facing judgment, and women can actively participate in creating systemic social change.

“When I stayed at a shelter I had to give them my HIV medication to store. When they gave it back, other women found out that I was HIV positive. The staff and other women treated me and my children differently.”

— Woman living with HIV, Ontario

“I even had a doctor come to me and say ‘people like you are differently fused than people like me.”

— Woman facing systemic risk, Ontario


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WHAI works to address women's experiences of stigma and discrimination by fostering welcoming, engaging, and respectful community organizations. Working with women living with and facing systemic risk for HIV is essential to this work.

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WHAI supports community organizations by providing practical tips, tools, and strategies that foster welcoming spaces.


Women, HIV & Stigma: A Toolkit for Creating Welcoming Spaces

Toolkit, WHAI Resource

Women, HIV & Stigma: A Toolkit for Creating Welcoming Spaces

This toolkit provides practical tips, tools and strategies to help community organizations build welcoming spaces.