WORLD honors National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day!

March 6, 2012 Fort Walton, FL — 2012 is a year to Count HIV+ Women Leaders In! This Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10th, Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease (WORLD) honors the vibrant and powerful leadership of women living with HIV in addressing the domestic epidemic.

Women living with HIV and advocates in the Southern U.S. will gather today in Fort Walton Beach, Florida for Raising Our Voices: An Advocacy Summit for HIV+ Women in the South, hosted by U.S. Postive Women’s Network, a project of WORLD.

The Summit will train 50 HIV+ women from the southern states most impacted by the U.S. epidemic on human rights issues, community organizing, and healthcare reform implementation to build advocacy capacity in the South. “Without active, engaged and sustained leadership by women who live this experience every day, we will never address the HIV epidemic and corresponding human rights violations,” says Naina Khanna, WORLD Policy Director and PWN Coordinator.

The South is facing a human rights crisis with rising rates of HIV infection that have skyrocketed in the last decade, and a disproportionate impact on women and girls. 35% of new HIV diagnoses in 2009 were in 9 Deep South states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas — however these states account for only 22% of the U.S. population according to the Duke University’s Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative research and report released in December 2011.

In addition, 9 out of 10 states with the highest rates of death due to HIV in the country are in the South. Although HIV is now largely perceived as a chronic manageable condition where treatment and care are available, women of color, especially African-American women, suffer unnecessarily poor health outcomes due to HIV-related stigma, gender-based violence, poverty, and lack of access to quality health care.

Juanita Williams, a women openly living with HIV and founding member of PWN and SisterSong in Atlanta, states “Peer support is hard to find. You have to go underground. You have to talk to one of your friends to see if they know someone who is HIV+ and who is willing to sit down and meet with you” (read more on PWN’s blog “Spotlight on the South: ‘I am not the enemy, I am the answer'”).

“It’s unacceptable that women of color, especially women of African descent, are being tested later, getting sicker and dying faster from HIV. We have to build an infrastructure of services and advocacy wherever women are. All eyes need to be on urban areas experiencing racial disparities and on the South,” says Cynthia Carey-Grant, WORLD’s Executive Director.

Featured presenters at the Summit include a diversity of women living with HIV, as well as experts from SisterLove, Inc., the Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative, Women With A Vision, A Family Affair, the National Women and AIDS Collective, Harvard Law School’s Treatment Access Expansion Project, and the Positive Justice Project.

In addition, WORLD is hosting an event this Thursday in Oakland, CA entitled “Where Do We Stand?”, a film screening and panel discussion of the family Many Women, Many Voices on the impact of HIV on African-American, in collaboration with the California Prostitutes Education Project (CAL-PEP). Thursday’s event, which will take place on International Women’s Day, will be held at CAL-PEP’s office at 2811 Adeline Street in Oakland from 5:30-7:30pm.

Women living with HIV in the South and across the country in Detroit, Colorado, Illinois, Philadelphia, and San Diego are raising their voices this Naitonal Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day! Count HIV+ Women In! Stay tuned for blogs and photos on our website, twitter (pwnusa) and facebook.

In Sisterhood and Solidarity,

U.S. Positive Women’s Network