Stigma originally meant an actual mark on a person’s body, but the word is now also used to describe the way we mark people out as different from us.
Stigma is a difficult subject to discuss. Sometimes we are blind to the stigma around us and even within us. Sometimes we recognise stigma exists but we are afraid to talk about it because other people never do.
Even when we are able to talk about stigma and take action to prevent it, there may be challenges. When we bring stigma into the light, we expose deeply-held beliefs that need to change. Many people find this uncomfortable, because it threatens their sense of identity.
Stigma causes discrimination, which holds back community development and keeps people in poverty. Instead of communities reaching goals together – such as making education available to all children – some people may be left out or left behind.
In this issue we share articles from different stigmatised groups, such as people with disabilities (p16), people living with HIV (p1-3) and former prisoners (p5). The stigma of having a particular health problem (such as a fistula, p8-9, or leprosy, p6-7) often prevents people from seeking treatment. This can lead to unnecessary suffering and even death.
It is a sad fact that faith groups are often responsible for stigmatising others. Churches have excluded people and justified it by quoting the Bible. Instead of helping people to find healing from shame caused by stigma, they have made it worse. For this reason we have included two Bible studies on p7 that share a different message. The prejudice that leads to stigma can be overcome by building relationships with those who are different from us – for example, people who have a different faith (p10-11).
We particularly look at ways of changing attitudes. Sharing personal stories is a powerful way of doing this (see p14). We are thankful for all those who have shared from their own experience in contributing to this issue of Footsteps.
Footsteps 87 will be on the topic of non-communicable diseases – diseases that cannot be caught or spread.
Please find below articles from Footsteps issue 86 in html.
To download a pdf version of Footsteps issue 86, please click here (588KB).