We Will Control Our Own Destinies; We are the “Positive Women’s Network-United States of America”

Waheedahby Waheedah Shabazz-El

The women’s Liberation movement of the 1960’s was undoubtedly a major contributor toward the achievement of women’s empowerment. As we feel our strength and recognize our worth as women we seize and create opportunities for ourselves and for the upliftment of all women. We mobilize to challenge systems and governments that could not, would not or that simply were not responding to our needs as women. We educate ourselves; we fight for our own causes: We build coalitions that strengthen our positions. Why we even run for president of the United States. We have become makers, shapers and writers of our own history and our own destinies. Now then, another page in Women’s History was written in San Francisco June 15, 2008. Twenty-five (25) bold, brave, beautiful HIV-positive Women held the 1st ever convening for the establishment and solidification of what history will come to know as “The Positive Women’s Network”, a network beginning with 25 dynamic HIV+ women whose shared values will be the covenant of their alliance, their allegiance and their partnership. PWN’s objective will be to shape the landscape and secure the destinies of over 300,000 women who are living with HIV/AIDS in the US by forcing policy issues on their behalf .

Women Organized to Respond to Life Threatening Diseases (WORLD) generously hosted PWN-USA’s initial convening. Naina Khanna respectfully took on the chief leadership role as PWN coordinator. What is more Naina has exhibited an enormous amount of a integrity as she put forward the call that ultimately channeled a pilgrimage of a highly diverse, cross section of HIV-positive Women to the West Coast. Twenty-five women all living positive with HIV and all praiseworthy leaders in their own rights and in their perspective communities. Special gratitude is awarded to Executive Directors Julie Davids and Maura Riordan of both CHAMP and WORLD for the significant roles they took on as early supporters, allies and advisors of the Positive Women’s Network.

The women who attended in the two and a half day convening traveled from near and far. At roll call we discovered that all 25 who had been selected from the 200 applicants were there, present in the space; and they arrived in San Francisco inspired, motivated and with a willingness to take their advocacy efforts to the next level.

Our ages represented expansions and reflections of more than a half century; we came as young as 18 years of age and as youthful as 73 years of grace.

As we all looked around the room at one another I recall experiencing feelings of calmness, tranquility and oneness. Many lost their composure and allowed tears of joy to become their silent testimony. We understood that we were not in this fight alone. None of us were fighting alone. We were together. We were all here: We had come: Caucasian, African American, Latino, Indian, Native American, Hawaiian, We were here. Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, non –identifying. . Straight, Lesbian, Queer, Questioning and Trans Gender. We were here: Single, searching, married, widowed, divorced and adopted. We came. Mothers, Daughters Grandmothers, Sisters, Aunts, Cousins and Caretakers. Some arrived with translators, not allowing language to be a barrier; others became translators as they shared their skills with the group. And for the women who were hearing impaired, we were all mindful to speak clearly, and singularly.

With representation and assurance of technical assistance from NAPWA, the AIDS Alliance and CHAMP our vision of victory can more easily become a certain reality.

We all recognized that our diversity represented our power and that we all shared a common theme; Our Mission is to strengthen the strategic power of women living with HIV. We do this by identifying, supporting, and cultivating meaningful leadership and relationships among HIV-positive women while building capacity for collective action between existing women and HIV organizations; and by engaging in strategic campaigns to change policy.

We also developed a shared understanding that our common values would operate as the connector of the network and we created measures so we can be accountable to these values. These will be finalized by our Next Steps Committee.

We value:

(1) We explicitly value being a network of self-identified WOMEN
(2) We value the analysis that HIV is a symptom, not the problem, and we must address the root causes and structural inequalities that lead some communities to be disproportionately impacted by HIV – both before and after HIV infection.
(3) Collective Action that changes the balance of power.
(4) Cultivating and supporting leadership that reflects the epidemic.
(5) Decision-making processes that prioritize those most impacted by the decision.
(6) The input and contribution of well-intentioned, well-informed allies.
(7) Self-identity.
(8) The meaningful inclusion of all women living with HIV.
(9) Sustainability as a practical necessity.
(10) Our history and lessons from the past.
(11) Mentorship and the development of new leadership.
(12) Accountability from ourselves and others.
(13) Strategic campaigns that win us victories and make the best use of our collective resources.
We came together to established a sense of community among HIV-positive women leaders from around the U.S., starting with 25 women selected out of 200 applicants, with an emphasis on representing the current epidemic of 300,000 women in the US. As a result our gathering, history has taken on a transformation into “Her-story”. By the virtue of our presence in the space as Women living positive with HIV/AIDS we have all agreed that we are opposed to being at the mercy of policies where we have no input. By the virtue of our presence in the space as Women living positively with HIV/AIDS we have taken the charge of making, shaping and writing into existence our own history. We will control our own destiny. We are the Positive Women’s Network-United States of America.

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