KUALA LUMPUR, March 1 — The stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV have left some of those living and affected by it disadvantaged when it comes to earning a living.

One group that is affected are women.

To address gender and socio-economic disparities and socio-health determinants among women living with HIV, the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) is organising a fundraising gala dinner dubbed “#Girlpower” in conjunction with the International Women’s Day on March 8.

Proceeds from this inaugural event will be channelled to the foundation’s newly-launched MyLady Assistance Scheme, which aims to give these women the much-needed break to have equivalent opportunities as their peers.

MAF corporate advisor and the gala dinner co-chair Yazlan Yahya said the programme’s focus was to aid women and single mothers living with HIV by equipping them with the knowledge and skill sets to start small-scale enterprises and also refer them for suitable jobs with peer support programme.

“The goal is to improve the livelihood of these women by empowering them to be independent,” he said.

Yazlan said MAF has already tied up with a number of corporations that are willing to hire women living with HIV.

The foundation has shortlisted 10 women who will benefit from the programme this year.

Celebrity chef Datuk Ismail Ahmad, who is also the co-chair for the gala dinner, said the stereotypes surrounding HIV have made it difficult for many women to get equal opportunity.

“The public must understand that HIV is not transmitted by touching, hugging or shaking the hand of the person living with HIV,” he said.

“Due to the lack of awareness, many people are afraid of getting close to anyone with HIV.”

To overcome the stigma, Ismail said those living with HIV and the public must talk about the disease more and understand it better.

“HIV doesn’t discriminate, and anyone is susceptible to it if they don’t protect themselves through preventive measures,” he added.

“It is imperative to encourage the public to talk about it more openly.”

The dinner will be attended by Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh and MAF chairman Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman.

It will feature a “Let’s Talk” segment to highlight the underlying issues of HIV and educate the audience about the disease.

The segment will feature a panel comprising Rampai Niaga Sdn Bhd managing director Datin Mina Cheah-Foong, Hong Leong Investment Bank chief executive officer Lee Jim Leong, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Award 2018 winner Matron Fadzilah Abdul Hamid and Jamaliah Sulaiman, a woman living with HIV.

To jazz things up, Red Ribbon Celebrity Supporters jazz songstress Atilia Haron, Winnie K. and Bob Yusof are set to entertain the audience.  

The gala dinner will be held at the grand ballroom of the Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur Hotel.

Those interested to book a table at the gala dinner may contact Zackery Zainal at [email protected].

Concurrently with the gala dinner, MAF has also launched the Act Against AIDS Challenge (Triple-A Challenge), a crowd-funding campaign that will see two local long-distance marathon runners taking part in the four-day 160km Ultra ASIA Race in Vietnam from March 25 to 28.

All proceeds raised from the crowd funding will be channelled to the MyLady Assistant Scheme initiative.

Visit here if you wish to donate towards the Triple-A Challenge.