The Women’s Collective (TWC) started 20 years ago as a phone line in my kitchen, and it grew into the only woman- and girl-focused HIV service provider in Washington, D.C. Back when we started women and girls were not considered vulnerable to the disease and yet there we were – isolated, fearing for our lives, and wondering who would care for our children. TWC grew out of the collective need of a group of diverse women who each thought they were alone and were determined to ensure that other women would not feel that way.
Today, TWC provides HIV testing services, linkage to care, medical case management, mental health services, youth and intergenerational programming, education and outreach, and advocacy — among myriad other services that support women in achieving better health outcomes over their lifespan. We’re incredibly excited to use this space to share our voices about not only the work that we’re doing for women and girls living with and at risk for HIV, but also our perspective on the needs and experiences of women and girls in the epidemic and the intersecting issues that affect their lives and well-being.
These conversations have never been more relevant. Society has become fond of proclaiming the end to –isms (an end to racism, an end to sexism, etc.), all while ignoring staggering levels of inequality based on race, gender, class, etc. The economic security of women and girls is paramount to overcoming poverty and inequalities, yet remains elusive to women, especially women of color.
The added burden of HIV creates an even more challenging position for women. The National Women’s Law Center published an infographic on March 14, 2014 showcasing significant inequalities: women make up 47% of the overall workforce and 76% of the low-wage workforce; women of color make up 16% of the overall workforce and 37% of the low-wage workforce. These statistics highlight a real problem that impacts real women, and that impact is even greater when women are living with HIV/AIDS. Women face real pressure to find full-time employment, not only to be able to feed, shelter, and clothe themselves and their families, but to get access to the “best health care delivery system in the world” – at least, according to House Speaker John Boehner and Fox News.
Living with HIV increases the intensity of that pressure, with the added stresses of needing health care to cover medications and medical appointments and needing stable housing to secure and safely store medication…you get the idea. It also increases the likelihood of discrimination – people with HIV are routinely stigmatized based on misinformation and outdated ideas of what it means to live with HIV. Without the income to take care of all of those basic needs, and the needs of their family members (because, let’s face it, women are still the primary caregivers in our society), women living with HIV/AIDS struggle to find the financial resources and the time to enter care and stay in care.
Each week you’ll hear from me, TWC staff members, and women living with HIV/AIDS who will reflect on these trends and issues, our experiences, and on the future for women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. We look forward to reflecting on where we’ve been, sharing our work, and thinking about new directions for TWC. We hope that our blog will inspire you to join the conversation!