NAZ, the charity delivering culturally-specific sexual health services to Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in London, has announced its newest programme, Sholay Love — a multi-platform campaign designed to raise awareness of the importance of testing regularly for HIV and improve sexual health literacy among South Asian men who have sex with men (MSM).
The media campaign is in support of the launch of a new support group, which will meet once a month and provide a much-needed forum for South Asian MSM to connect and discuss issues specific to theirexperiences.
At a glance:
● South Asian MSM are less likely to access sexual health screenings than other BAME MSM (Jaspal et al, 2016);
● South Asian MSM are less likely to discuss HIV and sexual health with partners (Jaspal et al,2016); and
● South Asian MSM possess the least knowledge of HIV and sexual health out of all major BAME MSM groups (Jaspal et al, 2016).
South Asian MSM are one of the most overlooked groups when it comes to HIV prevention, which is reflected in NAZ seeing a year-on-year increase in South Asian MSM looking for HIV support . A complex web of cultural, religious and societal issues within South Asian MSM communities hamper their access to — and willingness to engage with — appropriate mental and sexual health support.
As a result, alongside their increased risk of contracting HIV, South Asian MSM also report lower levels of self esteem and mental wellbeing.
Aaron Chady, sexual health coordinator for South Asian MSM at NAZ and project lead for Sholay Love, said “From a lack of representation in sexual health campaigns to the cultural stigma attached to homosexuality, South Asian MSM are far behind in their sexual health literacy and have been, to my experience, reluctant to engage about their sexual health in the more usual outreach settings. Too often, I see South Asian MSM when things have gone wrong. We are being failed by prevention messages.
“There is not one individual issue affecting the sexual health of South Asian MSM. It’s a convergence of complex cultural and societal issues, including the myriad reasons why some South Asian men might not be out and open. Sholay Love is an opportunity to connect, converse and learn; and private space that allows us to understand our sexual health with the cultural context and sensitivity required to combat shame, bust myths and explore our identities. We want the South Asian community, my community, to know they are not alone. This programme is designed for you.”
Adding to the unique hurdles to sexual health is a distinct lack of visible role models, the result of which is a commonly-reported struggle with identity, sexual exploration and acceptance. Sholay Love aims to tackle this by using Bollywood imagery to capture the imaginations of South Asian MSM through a familiar theme. The campaign places South Asian lovers centre stage, portraying their love as beautiful, passionate, something to be celebrated, rather than something to be hidden, feared or disregarded.
The artwork for the Sholay Love campaign has been created by Karun Soni, a London-based British Asian artist whose art agitates for change on issues such as sexism, homophobia, racism, domestic violence and mental health in the South East Asian community:
“My art challenges particular views in India on issues such as women’s rights, domestic violence and the caste system, and the purpose of my art is to challenge views that are immoral and unjust but that survive today in our culture. I am incredibly excited about Sholay Love because it is designed especially for us, and so the artwork calls upon an image of ourselves we may have in our heads and hearts but may have trouble displaying out in the open.”
Sholay Love is a twelve-month project funded by the Public Health England Innovation Fund and delivered in partnership with Yorkshire MESMAC and Barts Health NHS Trust. The programme will be delivered in London, Leeds and Bradford.
Interested South Asian MSM (trans and non-binary people welcome) should register their interest via the details provided here: naz.org.uk/sholaylove