"My role is to advocate for the voices of women living with HIV to be heard."

Susan with Daisy David, from India.

By Susan Paxton, PhD, ICW Global Representative on the Conference Coordinating Committee

As the representative for women living with HIV on the International AIDS Conference Coordinating Committee, part of my role is to advocate for the voices of women living with HIV to be heard, speaking out on issues relevant to our lives. I am happy to say that in Melbourne in July, more women living with HIV will be prominent than ever before, and address all but one of the seven key plenary sessions.

The community representative welcoming delegates to the conference is Ayu Okiarini from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. On Day 1, Dr. Lydia Mungehera will address the essential role of people living with HIV in the response.  Lydia works with pregnant women diagnosed as HIV-positive in Uganda, and established the award winning “Mama’s Club”, a peer-based organisation to provide support to positive pregnant women. On Day 2, Jeni Gatsi will speak about gender inequity. Jeni is involved in the legal challenge to the Namibian Government on coerced sterilisation.  The next day, Daisy Nakato from Uganda will address sex worker issues. On the final morning plenary, a dynamic young Puerto Rican, L’Orangelis Thomas Negro will talk on adolescents living with HIV. L’Orangelis was born with HIV and has developed a blog, “Ovaries of Steel”. At the closing ceremony, the community baton will be handed over to Violent Banda from Malawi, another young woman born with HIV, in recognition that the next conference will be held in Southern Africa.

Women living with HIV will deliver symposia, oral presentations, and workshops, on justice, violence, sexual and reproductive rights, and our right to be treated with dignity. We will run a vibrant Women’s Networking Zone in the Global Village, a free public space where there will be dialogues and activities from morning til evening each day.

Melbourne may be too distant for many people to get here, so this conference will also be more virtual than ever before. Every plenary will be online four hours after it has been delivered, and other sessions within 24 hours. The dynamic presentations by inspirational HIV-positive women leaders from around the world will stay on the web site, available for access after the conference.

At a reception at Government House.

Women can organise mini-conferences or “Hub Centres” anywhere around the world. We encourage women to ask national and international bodies to support Hub Centres for women after the conference, to screen selected sessions to local women. Please join us in this AIDS conference, in person or virtually.

About Susan Paxton: I was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1991. Since then I have become a passionate advocate for the rights of women with HIV, committed to developing leadership skills and confidence of people living with HIV so they can advocate for their rights and take their place as equal partners in the response.

Since 1995 I have been involved in APN+, the Asia Pacific Network of People living with HIV, first as the Australian representative, and since 1999, as an annually elected Advisor. For APN+ I wrote: “Lifting the Burden of Secrecy”, for HIV-positive people who speak out in public, now translated into twelve languages; “AIDS discrimination in Asia“, the first regional documentation of HIV-related discrimination, which evolved into GNP+’s Stigma Index; “A Long Walk“, a study of women’s challenges in accessing HIV services; “Diamonds” a book and dvd of the life stories of positive women leaders, and “Positive and Pregnant – How Dare You“, a six-country study highlighting violations of women’s rights during pregnancy, including refusal of care and coerced sterilisation.

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