“I am HIV positive and I want to represent the HIV community”

“I am HIV positive and I want to represent the HIV community, the marginalised people in Indonesia and make sure everyone knows that they can play football too.”

Isye is 40 years old. She wears a sports hijab, she plays football with and against men, and she has HIV. She has fought and overcome barrier after barrier, from gender, age, religion, culture and infection. She is a multi-activist; from promoting HIV without stigma to female participation in sports whilst upholding religious and cultural beliefs.

A “tomboy”, widower, and mother of two, Isye has played football since she was a child. “I always liked to do the things that are known as ‘boy stuff’ like football. Other people think that is not right, maybe. But I want to show that it isn’t a problem playing soccer. It can sometimes feel uncomfortable playing with and against men here. But I want to be an inspiration for every woman in Indonesia, that women and women living with HIV can be doing everything, not just sleeping, housekeeping, and crying—everything!

“I was infected with HIV in 2005 from my husband who was a heroin drug user. He has now passed away; he passed away in 2011. I have two daughters. They are not infected by HIV. When I found out the status of being HIV, I felt anger, sadness, a mix of feelings. Angry at him. But I learnt to accept around three years later. I then became a HIV activist.”

Isye, alongside her teammates, have been supported to come here by the Indonesian organisation Rumah Cemara, which provides treatment and care for people who have a history of drug abuse, homelessness, and many of whom are HIV positive. Gina Pratami, the team’s manager explains that “the Indonesian team’s assistant coach and four players are HIV positive, one is from the LGBT community, and one is an ex drug addict’.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the cells that help the immune system fight off infections. Although the human body can’t completely rid itself of HIV (even with treatment), by taking medication every day the life of someone infected by HIV can be prolonged immensely.

‘Being HIV positive affects me every day, I have to take medicine twice daily, every 12 hours, 9am and 9pm. My lifestyle has to fit around my medicine. But I have a future. I just want to see my children grow up and for nothing bad to happen to them. I want to be an inspiration for women to play football, with men, particularly those women who are HIV positive. I want to overcome the stigma and for women to know that they should not be afraid.”

Words: Deborah May
Images: Daniel Lipinski / Soda-Visual