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).

  • A helping hand for ex-prisoners

    [Advocacy] In some places, stigma and discrimination are made worse through official practices that deny people their rights or exclude them from society. Here, an organisation in Kyrgyzstan that runs a rehabilitation centre for male ex prisoners shares how it is helping them to reintegrate into society.

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  • Being deaf in Afghanistan

    by Justin Power. SERVE Afghanistan has been working with stigmatised groups of Afghans for many years. As is common throughout the world, Afghan society has false ideas about people with disabilities. To address this stigma, SERVE provides accurate information and demonstrates that society’s ideas need to change.

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  • Bible study: What do we really know?

    What do we really know? by Rev Michael Beasley Read Luke 8:42a-48. As human beings, we often know less about others than we think we do. Consider the story of the woman with the haemorrhage. What do the following people know about the situation described, and what don’t they know?

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  • Building peace between faith groups

    [Community development] by Joe Campbell. Prejudice between different groups is the beginning of what can grow into serious division, conflict and often violence. Both sides feel misunderstood and shut out by the other. Each feels more comfortable among ‘their own people’. This is fertile ground for those who have extreme views on both sides to spread rumour and create fear.

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  • Compassionate counselling

    [Counselling] by Gladys K Mwiti and Al Dueck Mental illness is an affliction that must be faced directly rather than denied, and responded to compassionately rather than with punishment. People with mental illnesses have often been dismissed as ‘crazy’. Condemnation would view people with mental illness as hopeless. Compassion is the opposite of condemnation. A compassionate person communicates sympathy, empathy, concern, kindness, consideration and care.

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  • Fistula

    [Health] By Helen Gaw Obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal that develops as a result of long or obstructed labour. Women who have a fistula cannot control the flow of urine and suffer continual leaking, which can cause a bad smell. Usually their babies have not survived labour. They are often excluded from family and community and develop other health problems.

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  • Letters

    Stigma in Brazil In Brazil there is huge stigma for those who come from the ‘interior’ to live in a big city. It is much worse for those who migrate from anywhere in the north-east to the south-east. Local prejudice and ignorance creates a barrier to social mobility and success for many capable people. To survive, people keep their origins quiet, trying to blend in to their new surroundings.

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  • Reconciliation – telling a different story

    [Peace-building] Philbert Kalisa grew up in exile in Burundi before training as a church leader. Since the time of the genocide, when many people were killed in a conflict between two tribes, the Hutu and Tutsi, he had a vision of bringing reconciliation in his parents’ country – Rwanda.

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  • Resources

    Peace-building within our communities This ROOTS book looks at tools for peace-building and conflict transformation work. It contains case studies of peace and reconciliation work in communities. It is available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

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