Violence against women and girls is not only a gross violation of human rights, it is a fundamental obstacle to achieving gender equality and eradicating global poverty.

Goal 5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2016 – 2030 is

“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”

which includes 5.2 “Eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres”.

So, what does this have to do with leprosy and other neglected diseases?  In many of the countries where leprosy is endemic, there is a strongly held belief that the disease is a curse from the gods for past misdemeanours. 

Leprosy is still grounds for divorce in many States in India.  Women face not only isolation but also domestic violence as a result of a diagnosis of leprosy, particularly if the symptoms are visible.

Read about Kalpana whose husband beat her and eventually threw her and their daughter out of the family home. 

Kalpana has started a new life.  To support other women, we listen to their opinions when designing our projects.   We employ women who have experienced leprosy or other neglected diseases.

We help women to claim their rights to poverty, claim maintenance when their husbands leave them or force them out of their homes.

When we work with communities, especially tribal groups in remote villages, we need to take account of their beliefs about myths and curses in delivering our health education programmes.  With schools and community groups, the more knowledge and information we can give about leprosy, its treatment and cure, the easier it will be to remove the myths and reduce the isolation and violence.