Fiona Pettit described the work of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) – the only international network run for and by HIV positive women, with members from 134 countries.
ICW was formed by a group of HIV positive women from various countries attending the 8th International Conference on AIDS held in Amsterdam in 1992. It envisions a world where all HIV positive women:
- have meaningful engagement in HIV policy development
- have full access to care and treatment regardless of gender, age or lifestyle
- enjoy full rights irrespective of culture, age, religion, sexuality, social or economic status, class or race
Several communication barriers exist for HIV positive women. They include:
- having to lobby again and again for women-only spaces at conferences
- some members of ICW having been dismissed from their jobs for trying to set up women’s associations
- difficulty in putting women’s issues on the agenda at government level, as they are often aggregated with ‘people issues’ which include men, children, elderly etc
- women’s unequal social, economic and legal status is increased by a positive HIV status
ICW is part of a consortium project – Parliamentarians for Women’s Health – that seeks to improve parliamentarians’ understanding of the health issues faced by women, especially those who are HIV positive.
For example, in Namibia, many of the civil society organisations were not aware of either women’s rights to sexual or reproductive health or the international conventions that the Namibian government had ratified.
Diverse groups, such as HIV-positive women, health providers and government officials have been brought together, and parliamentarians sensitised to the impact of their actions on HIV-positive women. Committees in each region are building ongoing relationships with parliamentarians and HIV-positive women.