By Mary Bowman
For years, I have evaded the law and policy work in regards to HIV/AIDS advocacy. I have been discouraged due to the lack of attention given to youth and women living with HIV. I also have felt that I lack significant knowledge when it comes to policy, politics, and laws. However, the more I continue my journey of advocating through storytelling and art, the more “professional” advocacy flashes through my heart. As a young woman living with HIV knowing that there isn’t many like me that sit at the HUGE Ryan White Planning Council table I feel a great responsibility to fully serve as an advocate for those living with AIDS/HIV. Thus began my new role as Policy and Advocacy Associate with The Women’s Collective in Washington, DC.
I attended my very first congressional briefing held by AIDS United. I was extremely excited and overwhelmed with anticipation of what seemed to be a sort of “rites of passage” into the policy world. I expected to be in a large room with majority uptight, close-minded, older in age, and mostly white policy makers. To my surprise, the room was filled with young, mixed race, and eager congressional interns and fellows. Any nervousness that entered the room with me quietly left as I took the saved seat next to my executive director, Ms. Pat Nalls. She and Martha Cameron , policy and advocacy manager at The Women’s Collective, have supported me whole heartedly in my journey of advocacy. The have also given me tools to use when in professional setting such as the congressional briefing.
Using my voice for the voiceless is one of those tools that I have learned mostly be experience. For example, during the congressional briefing a lot was said about the history of HIV/AIDS and the current state of challenges, growth, and communities most affected by the epidemic. It seemed as if the MSM population (which in truth is leading the infection rates in numbers) got most of the attention while women, especially women of color were mentioned in a whisper among the rest of the populations affected. Though, we are blessed to have women like Pat who don’t hesitate to make sure women are receiving fair amounts of attention. During the question and comment portion of the briefing, Pat raised her hand and commented on the lack of representation of women, especially women of color, living with HIV. I believe she was answered with a very vague and politically correct answer, but I am glad she pushed the panel to discuss women’s issues and also made the congressional staffers aware of the importance of including women in the discussions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
I am excited and ready for my new found interest in policy and advocacy. I am proud to be among the number of women representing for women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. I see now the importance of sitting at the Ryan White Planning Council table to make sure that grant funding is being fairly distributed to our community and to organizations that support all people living with and affected by this epidemic. I understand the importance of being involved in the process of policy and law making and I am working every day to make sure the women I encounter are also aware of their importance at these tables.