Welcome To Our New Location!

In July 2016, The Women’s Collective moved to 3230 Pennsylvania Avenue SE.  On September 6, the organization hosted a celebration to formally introduce our clients to our new office and drop-in center.   Executive director, Patricia Nalls, joined case managers and community health workers in welcoming clients into the space.  Intimate and lively as always, clients shared food, laughter, and reflected on previous experiences with their TWC family.  We’re in a new land but we’re offering the same brand; sharing our stories and saving our lives.

welcome-back-celebration

A TWC Community Poem

At our monthly Positive Leaders Uplifting Sisters (PLUS) meeting, Mary Bowman led the group in writing a community poem. Each member contributed a line, producing a poem that reflects each member and the group as a whole.

PLUS Group Community Poem

The look of HIV has no face

And I love my life, I’ve accepted my life

I feel like HIV destroyed my life

HIV/AIDS won’t kill me

But denial equals death

HIV lives with me and brightens the road ahead of me

TWC is a place to feel free

Being positive doesn’t mean better days aren’t coming your way

HIV helps me with my health

I’m more aware of me  health since HIV came to my life

Positive people, sincere friends is my wealth

I was homeless with HIV

I live everyday to the fullest, not like it’s my last

Sisters helping sisters to survive

I’ve learned to accept the fact that I am HIV+

Having HIV doesn’t mean that I’m not free

I love myself more than the HIV in front of me

Y’all make me feel so good, so uplifting

Love and friendship is what make me healthy

Without you, there is no me.

My First Congressional Briefing

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.

Are We Not Worth It?

By Martha Cameron

As a woman living with HIV, who has experienced services from Ryan White Part D, I should join the throngs of individual women who are advocating for the continuation of Ryan White program in its totality, and the assurance of designated & quality access to treatment & care for women…

I am originally from sub- Saharan Africa, and had it not been for the existence and efforts of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, I would not have been able to have my first HIV negative baby. It was still hard to access services and finds a good doctor to work with but this was understandable, considering the healthcare infrastructure in my country at the time.

As we relocated and attempted to resettle in the United States, I became pregnant again, it was easier to get services here than it was in Africa. What was shocking to find in the United States, however, was the amount of ignorance and stigma that I experienced when I was not at a dedicated HIV (Ryan White) provider.

The OBGYN that I initially saw not only felt that I had no business having babies as an HIV positive woman, but also strongly suggested tubal litigation (tying my tubes). Additionally when my baby was born, a nurse carefully put on a second set of gloves before she touched my baby.

Now being pregnant is already a stressful ordeal, but more so as woman living with HIV. There is an added level of stress that comes with taking extra care of yourself, as well as taking care of your baby. After the loss of my husband’s job, and therefore insurance soon after the bay was born, I was referred to a Part D provider. Part D service providers understood both my physical & mental state, and created a safe and comfortable environment for me; it was an environment where someone understood what you, as an HIV positive woman, and your family is going through. It also helps when someone understands why a hug and cuddle for you and your baby, and a listening ear is just as important as the antiretroviral therapy that you take. And no one even talks about the heterosexual man or husband for whom Part D has been a safe haven.

It has been well worth it, the greatest gift to a life that was otherwise hopeless; my marriage and kids are miracles. The research regarding the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT), female condoms, and PrEP, work not only to ensure the sexual and reproductive health rights of women living with HIV, but also makes it possible for women living with HIV to experience the absolute joy of motherhood.

We are a family of an HIV negative man and HIV positive woman, an HIV negative daughter, and two HIV negative boys born to. We are a perfect Part D family.

The Women’s Collective is filled with many such stories. The Women’s Collective is a home away from home, and for many of the homeless women that we serve, the only home. Part D did not exist when the Founder of The Women’s Collective, Pat Nalls lost her little baby girl to AIDS. Part D exists because women like Pat Nalls & Elizabeth Glaser fought to ensure that other women would not have the same experience.

Nearly 9,000 HIV + women give birth in the United States every year. With this in mind, we have to ask how the consolidation of Ryan White Part C and Part D will help these women, and families such as mine; Will the consolidated Part C assure and maintain access to HIV care and treatment for women, infants, children and youth; will they receive the care and attention required to retain them in care by keeping them connected to their service providers. It’s the kind of care that has no barriers, bears no judgment and is greatly needed. Are we not worth receiving that type of care?

Ryan White Part D Stands in the FY 2015 Spending Plan

In a previous Policy Brief, published in the spring of 2014, The Women’s Collective commented on the President’s proposal to condense Ryan White Part D funding into Part C in the budget for the 2015 fiscal year. Ryan White Part D provides medical care and support services to women, infants, children and youth, while Part C provides comprehensive primary health care to people living with HIV/AIDS, without a focus on a specific group. We argued that there is some merit to this proposal, as Part D funding has been especially competitive and the number of children being born with HIV is declining. However, we also voiced serious concern about this proposal, as it is signifies the underrepresentation of women and families effected by HIV. Women and families effected by HIV should not be forgotten in HIV services, funding, and advocacy—they have unique needs that go beyond quality health care and treatment.

With these concerns in mind, we are pleased that the spending plan released by Congress on December 9, 2014 did not enact the President’s proposal, that would have eliminated Ryan White Part D. While Ryan White Part D will not be collapsed into Part C for the 2015 fiscal year,  we must continue to work to ensure that HIV’s effect on women and families is recognized and addressed.

Break The Silence

By Mary Bowman

On October 29th at 10:23am, I had an epiphany. Six days before the epiphany my office, The Women’s Collective, was saturated in purple for ‘Purple Thursday’ in recognition of Domestic Violence (DV) awareness month. It was amazing to watch women going back and forth sporting everything from purple clothing to matching purple jewelry. I even adorned a mad hatter styled purple hat. We took lots of pictures and posted all over social media in an effort to bring awareness to something that one in every four woman will experience in her lifetime, DV.  That plagued my mind for days. One in EVERY four women will experience DV in their lifetime.

On the morning of October 29th I was reminded, with flashbacks of my father’s fists to my face, my mother’s eyes watching helplessly, and screaming in the middle of the street for help, that I was that one in every four woman. I had experienced DV and didn’t even think to call it what it was. I wasn’t the child that was physically abused by her parents throughout her childhood and I never had an intimate partner DV situation. My father only physically attacked me once so; I assumed I was exempt from the title of DV survivor. I thought, wow, how many other women walk around with these stories in the attics of their minds? How many other women or even men don’t realize that they are a survivor of DV.

Thankfully there are women in the community who are not only survivors of DV but advocates of DV Awareness by sharing their own personal stories. On October 30th I accepted an invitation to an event called ‘Break The Silence’. I went representing my organization but I ended up standing in solidarity with fellow survivors and pouring libations for those who we have lost to DV. The event was held at a community center in the Benning Park area of South East, DC. Guests, both women and men, arrived on time with their families and friends eager to find solace, support, and information about DV. There were two main speakers one of which was Ms. Queen Afi, a compassionate, no nonsense, straight forward and candid mental health professional who experienced firsthand the unspoken dichotomy of DV. She was not only a survivor of DV but through the toils of life’s experiences, became an abuser as well.

After the speakers finished the guest enjoyed catered food, raffle getaways and even belly dancing to help change the mood after the exchange of DV stories. I connected with Queen Afi and have plans to work with her as we here at The Women’s Collective seek to bring awareness not only to DV but also gender based violence using the trauma informed care approach. Attending the event settled by emotions that followed my unexpected epiphany. It allowed me to see that DV comes in different shapes and sizes and with my new outlook on DV I am better equipped to help bring awareness and support to others who are survivors just as I am.

Recognizing the Connection between HIV and Domestic Violence

October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Over the course of the month, events occur in communities around the country, to bring to light both the pervasiveness and effects of domestic violence. TWC will be participating in awareness raising events in the coming weeks, such as Purple Thursday, where members of our office will wear purple to show support for survivors of domestic violence.

We believe we have an important role in supporting and advocating for survivors of domestic violence, because of the intersection between HIV and domestic violence. In fact, we identify gender based violence as one of our five policy priorities, which guide our policy and advocacy work. Gender based violence is identified as one of our policy priorities, as it effects the health of women living with or at risk for HIV.

For example, women living with HIV in the United States experience intimate partner violence at a rate that is double that experienced by all women in the United States. This violence leads to HIV infection, and vice versa.  Women who are abused by their partner fear condom negotiation and report more unprotected sex, a risk factor for HIV. Additionally, women who are HIV positive have experienced violence when disclosing their HIV status to their partner. Further, violence has been linked to a greater chance of antiretroviral therapy failure among women living with HIV.

With this research in mind, it is clear that domestic violence can have a substantial effect on the health and well-being of women living with and at risk for HIV infection. To best address this link, we recommend that a focus be placed on trauma informed care, so that HIV care providers can best recognize and support HIV positive patients who are survivors of violence. Additionally, we recommend resources to promote healthy relationships, beginning with educating youth on healthy relationships and providing resources to support violence free relationships throughout life. During all months of the year, but especially during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we call on policy makers and advocates to continue to push for resources that support violence-free relationships for all.