Join the 2nd Annual Day of Action to End Violence Against Women with HIV, October 23, 2015


Contact: Naina Khanna, / 510-681-1169

August 31, 2015 – For women living with HIV, trauma and violence are often deadlier than the virus. Join Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), the premier voice of women leaders with HIV in the US, in saying ENOUGH! to the epidemic of violence against women with HIV. You’re invited to sign on as a partner or endorser for the second annual National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV!

Official logo for the Day of Action.

On October 23, 2014, during Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Month, PWN-USA spearheaded the first-ever National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV (Day of Action) to respond to the high rates of interpersonal violence, abuse, and systemic brutality faced by women living with HIV – including several high-profile brutal murders of women because of their HIV-positive status. We joined with well over a dozen endorsing organizations to raise our voices in support of women with HIV of all gender identities and sexual expressions who face violence, and to demand solutions.

From local ruckus-raisings to educational events and a webinar featuring federal partners, 2014’s Day of Action was a tremendous success.  Since last year’s Day of Action, PWN-USA and the UCSF Women’s HIV Program jointly released a model of trauma-informed primary care useful for providers serving women living with HIV.

This October 23, the Day of Action’s impact and influence will be even broader – and you can help! Sign on early as a partner organization, bring the Day of Action to your community by organizing a virtual or in-person event, and improve culture, programs, and policy for women living with HIV.

“Last year’s events really helped to highlight policy and programmatic opportunities to address violence against women with HIV, as well as the cumulative effects of lifetime trauma,” says PWN-USA’s Executive Director, Naina Khanna. “From the White House to local Ryan White clinics and community-based organizations, we are seeing an emerging commitment to address this issue.”

Organizations that sign on as partners in the Day of Action commit to taking at least one of a number of bold actions to address violence against women with HIV on that day. As a partner, your organization name will be listed on our website, and your event or statement on the intersections of violence and HIV will be shared widely through PWN-USA’s channels. Read more about partnership and endorsement of the Day of Action

Three in every 4 women living with HIV in the US reports a history of gender-based violence, compared to 1 in 4 women in the general population. This is part of a larger context in which violence against women, especially women of color, has been normalized and accepted. The Day of Action, conceived entirely for and by women with HIV, was created to raise awareness about the effects and prevalence of violence against women living with HIV, break through the culture that keeps this issue in silence, and push for structural change, including policy changes to eliminate this disparity.

“Laws that criminalize people living with HIV and practices that perpetuate discrimination, including violations of our sexual and reproductive rights and stigmatizing portrayals of HIV in media, are part of the culture of violence against women living with HIV,” says Khanna.

On October 23, women living with HIV, as well as those who love and support them, are invited to take part in Day of Action events both online and in person, sponsored by our partner organizations as well as our nine regional chapters and independent members across the US. Stay tuned to between now and October to find out more about ways to get involved in your community as well as on social media.

“Everyone is invited to share thoughts, actions, or ideas using the hashtags #pwnspeaks and #EndVAWHIV on social media both during the event and leading up to it,” says Olivia Ford, PWN-USA’s Communications Director.

Sign on as a partner or endorser of the Day of Action TODAY! We can’t wait to work with you to end the culture of violence against women living with HIV.

PWN-USA Salutes Progress and Identifies Opportunities for Women in the New National HIV/AIDS Strategy


Contact: Olivia Ford, / 347-553-5174

July 31, 2015 –Yesterday, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) unveiled the newest version of the US National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS, or Strategy), updated to 2020. Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), a national membership body of women living with HIV, applauds the Strategy’s stated commitment to address the effects of past and current trauma in HIV care, and its expansion of priority populations which now include Black women, transgender women, youth, and people in the Southern states.


“This new version of the Strategy corrects a number of the omissions pointed out in our gender audit of the initial version of the Strategy,” says Naina Khanna, Executive Director of PWN-USA. The new NHAS maintains the previous version’s overall goals of reducing new HIV cases and HIV related health inequities, improving health outcomes, and achieving a more coordinated national HIV response. In light of stark statistics and ongoing calls from advocates for federal recognition of the impact of HIV on Black women and Southern residents, the Strategy now includes a metric to measure progress toward reducing new HIV cases among these two overlapping groups.

However, the Strategy does not explicitly address disparities in health outcomes for Black women already living with HIV, whose death rates dwarf those of their white counterparts. Transgender women, who face astronomical HIV rates and high vulnerability to violence, are on a short list for indicators to be developed to measure progress in serving them under the new Strategy, but no such indicator exists as of the Strategy’s launch.

Following years of advocacy by PWN-USA leaders, the 30 for 30 Campaign, and others, the work of the Federal Interagency Working Group on the Intersections of Violence Against Women, HIV, and Gender-related Health Disparities has been integrated into the steps and recommended actions of the new Strategy. The Strategy also includes language committing to explore trauma-informed approaches to women’s HIV care.

Nevertheless, despite copious evidence that sexual and reproductive rights of people living with HIV are routinely violated, there is still no mention of reproductive health or rights, and sexual health of people with HIV is only marginally addressed, in the new NHAS.

A federal plan for putting the Strategy’s commitments into action is expected before the end of this year. PWN-USA encourages ONAP to take advantage of this opportunity to strengthen the Strategy’s effectiveness, including but not limited to: incorporating explicit language and metrics around sexual and reproductive health and overall quality of life for women living with HIV; developing indicators to support HIV prevention and care for transgender women; addressing root causes of poor health outcomes among Black women living with HIV; and developing a plan to address mental health, including high rates of depression as barriers to quality of life for women living with HIV.

We commend ONAP for its efforts to ensure greater responsiveness to the needs of women, transgender women, and youth in the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and look forward to working in partnership to support implementation over the next five years.

More Information:

30 for 30 Campaign Applauds Inclusion of Women’s Health Needs in New National HIV/AIDS Strategy

Full text of the Strategy

Infographic: National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated To 2020 – What You Need To Know

Infographic: National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated To 2020 – 5 Major Changes Since 2010

President’s Executive Order — Implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States for 2015-2020

Economic Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Reflections from “Breaking the Silence: A New Orleans Town Hall Hearing on Women of Color,” Part One

By Penny DeNoble

I have been incredibly excited about making my transition to New Orleans, as I had become really homesick over the last year and a half, desiring to return to the City of my birth.

There is something about New Orleans … the people, the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the rhythm and energy of the City; unlike any place else in the world!

Penny DeNoble.

Another reason for my homesickness and desire to leave Denver, CO, is because I grew lonely and fatigued at looking at so many faces that didn’t look like me, and desired to be in a community that does, especially in a community of Black women.  In the two months that I’ve been here, I have been able to find and join in a few events that have fed that need in my soul; to hear and learn about and participate in actions that highlight the state of trans women, Black women and girls in New Orleans, and to assist me in finding my place as to where I can serve and give something back to the community.

On June 18, 2015, I had the great privilege of attending a Summit entitled “Breaking the Silence: A Town Hall on Black Women.”  The intention around this Town Hall – which is a part of a National Series spearheaded by Kimberle Crenshaw, Executive Director of the African American Policy Forum – is to address challenges Black women in New Orleans experience on a daily basis, and then identify opportunities that local decision-makers can take back to their organizations and effect policy change.

After holding moments of silence for the nine martyrs who lost their lives to unspeakable terror and violence on June 17 in Charleston, we began.

The Town Hall was divided into 3 very rich panels:

  1. Economic Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans;
  2. State Violence and Criminalization of Black Women and Girls; and,
  3. Gender-Specific Violence

The one panel I will focus my thoughts on today is Economic Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans.  In future blogs, I will address the other two panel topics.

The women who were on this panel were: Ashana Bigard, housing and education advocate; Cashauna Hill, housing advocate; and Dr. Adrienne Dixon, education advocate.

This is a critical time in New Orleans in the recovery and building process, and it has been identified that so many crucial voices have been left out of the recovery and building conversation. Marginalized Black women and girls and other women of color have fallen out of the recovery intervention equation.  The idea that racial and economic justice would trickle down to women and girls through dads, brothers, and sons is an ideal.  The idea that women and girls are strong enough to wait for racial and economic justice to get to us is a myth. Women are verbalizing that the way forward is to lift up the truth of Black women’s stories and come forward to say that Black women and girls matter.

Ashana shared that the City of New Orleans has brought in outside contractors who have charged massive amounts of money and who have given their opinions and conclusions of post-Katrina recovery solutions, vs. inviting Black women and women of color to the table who are from the City, and are EXPERTS in and on their communities. For many reasons, numerous women and families have been displaced and are unable to return home to help re-build their neighborhoods and communities.

Although salaries in the city have remained the same, rent and groceries have tripled and lack of economic opportunities makes it difficult for women to be stable in housing.

She also shared about Parish housing authorities establishing ordinances that discriminate against people of color for housing opportunities. A perfect example she gave was of the St. Bernard Parish that engaged in a campaign to limit housing opportunities for Blacks in the Parish.  These policies made it very difficult to find or keep housing and these civil rights violations on the part of the Parish unfolded over the course of more than seven years.  This ordinance restricted the rental of single-family residences to those related by blood to the owner of the property (keeping in mind that the racial makeup of the Parish is 88.29% White and 7.62% Black).  Even after settling with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and the U.S. Department of Justice, the Parish and the Parish Council were repeatedly held in contempt by a federal judge for violating the voluntary agreement.  They were also found guilty of repeated actions to delay construction on multi-family housing developments in the Parish.  It was noted by the Department of Justice that racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of the legal battle.  So after years of litigation and $2.5 million later, St. Bernard Parish is building low- and moderate-income homes.

Everyone should have an opportunity to choose where they want to live regardless of their race.

Cashauna provided statistics stating that 83% of those receiving housing assistance in the state are women.  Further, a 2009 report by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center found that Housing Choice Voucher holders in Orleans Parish were 99% African American, and that they were facing severe discrimination. Criminal background checks keep Black women and women of color out of housing, especially if landlords and rental companies enforce different standards of criminal background checks on potential Black, Brown and White renters.

Cashauna also shared that women she advocates for have shared that they are constantly threatened to be evicted if they do not trade sexual favors in exchange for housing, especially and including undocumented women.  They voice that they are harassed and discriminated against on a regular basis.  This harassment makes them more vulnerable to eviction and often puts them in situations where they may turn to survival sex for retention of housing.

This speaks to the fact that Black women and women of color feel under-protected in these situations and may often feel like there is no resolution or help for the challenges they face.  These situations show the potential incidence of high-risk behavior for these women, and could place them in the category of populations at high risk for acquiring HIV.

Additionally, the City, by order of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has eliminated public housing units for 3,000 families and only 670 of these units have been replaced.  These uncensored bodies, which include HUD, City and Parish Housing Authorities, and private developers, are in fact participating in public and private-funded gentrification.  These bodies have made the decision about who can and can’t come home with the elimination of these 11 public housing units.  This elimination of housing units and these appalling housing policies disproportionately impact Black women and women of color, especially considering what I said earlier: that women make up 83% of people in New Orleans who use subsidized housing and Blacks are 32.4% of Louisiana population, and 59.7% of Orleans Parish population.

This is another issue that shows the connection between safe and affordable housing and HIV.  The effort to expand access to subsidized housing and other housing supports is crucial to vulnerable people living with HIV, because safe and affordable housing is healthcare.

I grew up in The Magnolia Projects, in 3rd Ward, and had close and extended family members living throughout the same housing project.  Not only were there family members, but there were many other families in the Magnolias that treated me like family.  There was always someone or someplace I could go to if my relatives were not around to let me in, feed me and/or give me a place to sleep.  Today, the Magnolia Projects are no longer there and neither is my family.  They, along with so many others throughout Orleans Parish, were demolished after Katrina and my family members that lived in New Orleans subsidized housing have been scattered to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston, Atlanta, and Long Beach, CA.

Many of these housing units did not experience any storm damage, but the City made the decision to totally flatten them anyway.  What sits on the land now throughout Orleans Parish are some of the housing projects that remain empty or with mixed-income housing that have high-end rents or condos and townhouses for sale, that are in the higher $200,000s and low $300,000s, that often have workout gyms, recreation and community centers, and retail shops on their premises.

I have had the good fortune of being able to purchase a duplex home in the 7th Ward neighborhood.  I am glad to be a part of the neighborhood and as I live in one of the units, I have made a commitment that I want to be able to provide a safe and pleasant living environment for a mother and her children on subsidized housing in the other unit.

Another endeavor I am anticipating is being a part of the City-Wide Katrina 10-Year Anniversary Day of Service, on August 29th, 2015.  The Mayor of New Orleans hopes to have 10,000 people gather in New Orleans, during the week of August 24th-29th, to be a part of the Day of Service.  I have volunteered to help build a Habitat for Humanity home for a family in my 7th Ward neighborhood.  I look forward to putting in “sweat equity,” to help a family achieve their dream of homeownership!

Ashana mentioned how this economic violence also has a great impact on the health outcomes of Black women and girls and women of color because the stress, unsafe and unhealthy living and housing conditions all have an impact on women’s quality of life and general wellbeing.  There is an intersection between poor health and homelessness.  Health outcomes for Black women and women of color can be disastrous, especially women with an HIV diagnosis.  These women may suffer illnesses at three to six times the rates of others and have a higher death rate and have dramatically lower life expectancy.

Dr. Adrienne shared that before Katrina, there were 7,000 teachers in the Orleans School District, and 80% of them were women.  Post-Katrina, the majority of these teachers were fired, forced to retire, and/or were unable to return.  This factor has had a huge impact on the number of Black women in the City.  These experienced members and pillars of Black communities have now been replaced with Teach-for-America associates, who are predominantly young and white, have no history in the communities where they work, and do not serve as role models for Black girls. This greatly impacts Black girls’ success and ability to navigate an educational system that wasn’t created with their mental, social, emotional and educational well-being in mind.  She states that New Orleans teachers have been displaced and disgraced.

With the establishment of a 100% charter school system in New Orleans, educational institutions are given free rein on determining what their policies and practices are and who can be accepted into their schools.  Keeping in mind that Black students make up 44% of the public school body, but receive 67% of out-of-school suspensions, 68% of expulsions and arrests, and Black girls were 23% of those arrested.  Black girls often report they are reprimanded for being “loud” or “defiant” when they were simply trying to express themselves in ways that were natural to them. Cashauna reported that once the students are arrested, many families of these students are then kicked out of their public housing, often leaving them homeless, and shelters aren’t an option for many families because a mother isn’t able to keep all of her male and female children with her.  These policies demonstrate how Black girls and their bodies are marginalized, pushed out and over-policed just by being them, and are victims of economic violence in the area of housing and educational opportunities.

Some of the solutions members of this panel suggested were the establishment of Community Accountability Boards that look at a wide range of community disparities, and use the findings to shape policies to guarantee that all voices are heard, and needs factored in when making recovery and revitalization decisions that impact all citizens in the City of New Orleans.  This also includes undergoing comprehensive fair housing training.

The inclusion of the voices of marginalized Black women and girls and women of color is a critical solution – they are valued as contributing members of the City, their voices are important, their unique and critical stories and needs must be taken into account in discussions about the recovery of the City.

Another solution that was presented was for charter schools to be more inclusive in engaging community members where they’re located, to give them a sense of ownership and to give them opportunities to help create procedures for the school and bodies they serve, with the hope of eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline connection. The voices of community members in residential neighborhoods, they feel, is crucial to improving the process of enrollment and encouraging the hiring of seasoned female educators of color.

The same is true for women living with HIV.  These women are the EXPERTS on their lives and the virus, and they have a vested interest in ensuring the health and wellbeing of women are taken into consideration when decisions are being made about our lives.  This includes inviting us to the table to hear our personal stories about our lives.  The ending of the HIV epidemic will not be in reach without women being at the table and our meaningful involvement in vision and mission setting, and the development of policy and programs that take women living with HIV and their experiences into account.

I hope that local and national policy-makers will hear, regard and include the community’s solutions in their programs and policies to legislate change for marginalized Black women and girls and other women of color in New Orleans (and in communities infected and affected by HIV/AIDS).

Until next time …



Positive Women’s Network – USA Releases Recommendations for the Next US National HIV/AIDS Strategy

Women with HIV Demand a Minimum Standard of Care, Bold New Initiatives to Ensure High-Quality Services for Black Women and Transgender Women of Color



Contact: Olivia Ford, / 347.553.5174

April 13, 2015 – Washington, DC – The next National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) must include factors vital to the survival and well-being of women living with HIV, according to Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), a national membership organization representing women living with HIV.

Today, PWN-USA released a set of recommendations for consideration by the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) as it develops the second iteration of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Among the recommendations is a demand for a minimum national standard of care for people living with HIV, which would include clinical and non-clinical quality of life guidelines. PWN-USA also strongly recommends developing a national initiative focused on access and quality of care for Black women living with HIV, and taking action to ensure transgender women’s access to culturally relevant prevention and services.

“As people with HIV are living longer, and are dependent on diverse sources of coverage for care and services, it is past time to define a national standard of high-quality care for people with HIV,” says Sharon DeCuir, a Baton Rouge-based service provider who serves as Vice Chair of the Board of PWN-USA. “This particularly applies in the South, where the impact of HIV is heaviest and most states have failed to expand Medicaid.”

Because of high rates of unmet need for sexual and reproductive healthcare services among women with HIV, the standards must include comprehensive, culturally competent, and non-stigmatizing sexual and reproductive healthcare for women of all ages, including transgender women, say leaders of PWN-USA. “The gender-sensitive, wide-ranging services provided in the Ryan White Part D program should serve as a standard for care for all women with HIV,” says Kari Hartel, a co-chair of PWN-USA’s Colorado chapter and a Part D service provider. In addition, advocates point to the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and intimate partner violence experienced by people with HIV, and recommend that trauma-informed care practices be fully incorporated into the standards.

The HIV epidemic among women has disproportionately impacted Black women and other women of color. CDC surveillance data reveal that Black women have significantly higher death rates than White women (16.7 to 1), and that the majority of transgender women diagnosed with HIV are women of color. A 2009 report by the National Institutes of Health found that a third of US transgender women are living with HIV, indicating that focused attention to these communities ought to be a mandate.

“Women with HIV occupy spaces where the impacts of racism, patriarchy, poverty, transphobia, trauma, and HIV intersect, and profoundly impact the quality of their lives,” says Naina Khanna, Executive Director of PWN-USA. “Services for women must proactively address these conditions.”

The recommendations also include a demand for meaningful inclusion of people with HIV in decision-making processes, and prioritizing research, development, and dissemination of women-controlled HIV prevention methods.

“The priorities of the next National HIV/AIDS Strategy must be shaped by those most impacted by the shifts in policy direction the strategy will produce,” says Barb Cardell, Board Chair of PWN-USA and a steering committee member of the US People Living with HIV Caucus. “We are proud that these recommendations are the product of a consultative process involving a diverse group of women living with HIV throughout the US.”

Read the full recommendations

Download a PDF of the recommendations

Advancing Collaborative and Shared Leadership and Participation Inclusive of Women Living with HIV

Remarks Delivered at the White House’s National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Event, “Stepping Out of the Shadows: HIV & Violence against Women and Girls”

By Vanessa Johnson, PWN-USA National Training and Leadership Director

bio - vanessa johnson - headshot
Vanessa Johnson, JD.

I bring you greetings from the Ribbon Consulting Group, a Washington, DC-based firm where I serve as one of its Co-Directors. I am also a Board member of the Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-USA) as well as the National Women and AIDS Collective (NWAC).  I was diagnosed with HIV 25 years ago in 1990, the same year I graduated from Temple University’s School of Law.

I want to thank Douglas Brooks, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, for inviting me to speak and I want to acknowledge all the other women living with HIV who are with us today, and those who are not. I stand in solidarity with them.

It is on this day, the 10th Anniversary of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD), that I begin my remarks by noting, the World Health Organization, as one of its strategies to end the global AIDS epidemic, authored three international declarations which make commitments to support the greater involvement of women, including women living with HIV, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Here in the United States, the basis for supporting the participation of women living with HIV is found in the Denver Principles, an historic document authored in 1983, which outlines the rights of people living with HIV as well as recommendations for participatory leadership and decision-making. Over the course of this 34-year fight, people living with HIV, both men and women, have worked tirelessly to ensure we have a stake in an ongoing battle which has taken the lives of over 600,000 Americans and threatens the health and well-being of another 1.2 million Americans, including 300,000 women, who are living with HIV today in the U.S.

For example, today’s focus on domestic violence and women would not be possible without the leadership and advocacy of women, especially women living with HIV.  The leadership of women living with HIV led to the March 2012 Presidential memorandum establishing a White House working group on the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women, and gender-related health disparities. President Obama’s signing of this memorandum might not have been possible if it were not for the willingness of women in a domestic violence shelter in Duluth, MN, to share their lived experiences with intimate partner violence.

Without their stories, we might not have an understanding that violence against women is grounded in power and control. Likewise, if it were not for the willingness of countless women living with HIV to tell their stories of past and present experiences with violence and trauma, we might not be here at this moment in time affirming what was noted in earlier presentations and the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) Resolution that, “women most at risk for or living with HIV are more likely to experience sexual or intimate partner violence one or more times in their lives.”

I stand in here in hope that both communities of women, HIV and domestic violence, which are inextricably linked, will build upon a shared vision to create a world where women, regardless of HIV status, no longer experience violence in their lives. We together must advance collaborative, shared, and supportive leadership which:

1) brings gender equality and human rights perspectives to the forefront;

2) clearly recognizes the role and influence of all women, including women living with HIV;

3) spearheads strategies that effectively address the underlying causes of HIV such as violence against women, feminized poverty and women’s limited voice in decision-making; and

4) reminds our national leaders and partners that the best outcomes are always ones that start with meaningful involvement of affected populations.

Thank you.

Watch the video from the White House event (Vanessa Johnson’s comments begin at 2:27:00)

vid embed code:

Read more about what PWN-USA members are doing on NWGHAAD

More Resources

Stepping Up Commitment: Women and Girls Living with HIV Must Matter Every Day of the Year


Contact: Olivia Ford, / 347.553.5174 

March 10, 2015 – Each year, on March 10, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) is observed in the US. But at Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), a national advocacy network of women living with HIV, we work on addressing the HIV epidemic among women year round. We don’t expect everyone to do that. There are many other issues and communities that require sustained focus and commitment.

However,  the federal government has consistently failed to prioritize women in the domestic HIV response:

Consequently, we are compelled to point out the myriad ways in which violence is perpetrated against women living with HIV. The intersections between HIV, violence and trauma for women are well-documented in the literature, and we applaud the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP)’s lead role in addressing this critical issue, forming a federal interagency workgroup to address it, and making this issue the centerpiece of its NWGHAAD focus this year.

However, it is important to recognize that violence comes in many forms – from institutions, policies, and practices that systematically render transgender people invisible, to power structures that consistently fail to meaningfully involve women and other communities impacted by HIV in generating recommendations, solutions, and decisions about policies and programs that impact our lives.

To effectively address the HIV epidemic among women, including the estimated 300,000 women living with HIV in the United States, the next National HIV/AIDS Strategy – which will be released this year – must include strategic priorities that address women’s needs.  These include the need for high quality, non-stigmatizing sexual and reproductive healthcare for women with HIV throughout the lifespan, implementation of trauma-informed practices in care settings, and family-centered services that facilitate and support access to care for people living with HIV.

Most important, people living with HIV must be meaningfully involved in crafting sustainable policy and programmatic solutions that reflect the realities of our lives.  On #NWGHAAD, and every day of the year: Nothing about us #WithoutUs.

Reflections on How Far Women with HIV Have Come in the Past 16 Years: A Personal View

By Olga Irwin, Regional Co-Chair, PWN-USA-Ohio

Olga Irwin.

Olga Irwin studied at Youngstown State University and became a licensed social worker in 2009. She was diagnosed with AIDS in 1999. Since her diagnosis she has become involved in the HIV community – starting with joining support groups, which were only offered for gay men in her area. She found more support systems through the Internet, HIV clinics, and Ryan White case managers. Now Olga is a member of Ohio AIDS Coalition, Ohio Community Prevention Group, the Ryan White Care Advisory Board, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Campaign to End AIDS, and also the Co-Chair of Positive Women Network USA-Ohio.

While writing that bio above, for the Ohio Chapter’s page of PWN-USA’s website, and while going through all my Happy Birthday wishes on Facebook on February 16, I was just so overwhelmed with how much support and how many more opportunities are now available for women living with HIV.

I was so used to years of only knowing about a small group of women. I met these women through attending Healing Weekends that were held by Ohio AIDS Coalition. We kept in touch through phone calls and emails, and one of the women became my best friend for at least 13 years. We meet at our first Healing Weekend. We got involved with activities together, and helped each other through everything that life handed us.

This year, the day before Thanksgiving, she lost her battle of almost two years fighting 4th-stage lung cancer. I thought I would never make it through the loss of the first woman I met that had HIV – who was also my best friend. The women that I’ve met through the years all joined together and helped me though this time period, and are still helping me through it in many different ways.

Oh! Sorry about getting off track a little bit, but I could not forget to share how I got started meeting other women living with HIV. Back to my birthday. I personally thanked each birthday well-wisher on Facebook individually; it was over 200 wishes, which took two hours to do. Over the past years the wishes have been more and more; but this year they really uplifted me, because about 70-80 of the wishes were from women that I have met just recently through Positive Women’s Network – USA, and about another 30 were people I have met through other organizations, agencies, and associations with HIV. That is over half! I was in total shock at this.

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10 is so important, for the main reason that women have a chance to learn about the many different opportunities and services available out there now for women living with HIV to meet other women for support and to share information. In Ohio this year, the PWN-USA Ohio Chapter is having two all-day events for this day – because we as a group know how important and powerful it is for women to know that there are others out there who feel and have the same questions they do, and that they are not alone in this community.

One event will take place in Cincinnati on March 10 …


… and the other event will be held on March 13 in Columbus!


I do not live in an area that has Ryan White Part D programs, but know I would not have met the majority of the women I have met if it was not for the Ryan White Part D programs they were involved with. This program for them is the only source of healthcare that they are able to access. With the potential consolidation of Ryan White Part D into Part C, many services may be lost that would make it so much harder for women to receive care, and get the support they need to stay in care, so that they will then be able to accomplish many things as they live healthy, long lives.

Olga Irwin lives in Youngstown and is the Co-Chair and Strategic Communications Action Team Rep for PWN-USA’s Ohio Chapter.

More Online Resources and Support for Women Living with HIV

PWN Members and Allies – Facebook group

Positively PWN-USA Ohio – Facebook group

PWN-USA Facebook Page

International place for people with HIV/AIDS, and the people who love us – Facebook group

Everything You Need to Know About SPEAK UP!

Lepena Reid, Janet Kitchen and Rose Todd, South Florida

SPEAK UP! A National Leadership Summit for Women Living with HIV is just one week away! Here’s everything you need to know, whether you’re coming to the Summit or following the happenings there from afar:

PWN-USA SPEAK UP! Summit Orientation Webinar – slideshow and voice recording of a helpful presentation on the ins and outs of the Summit (here’s a PDF of just the slides from the webinar)

SPEAK UP! Summit Official Website – the place to go for the full program, information on travel, a list of our generous sponsors, and much more!

“I’m Going to SPEAK UP! Because …” – videos and images from SPEAK UP! Summit participants about why they’re making the trip to Fort Walton Beach

Want to volunteer at SPEAK UP!? Contact Nerissa Irizarry to sign up: 510.698.3811 |

Here’s some background information on the Summit if you want to know more!

Like us on Facebook and follow our Twitter account and the hashtag #PWNSpeaks for up-to-the-minute updates from the Summit!

For those who are coming to SPEAK UP!:

SPEAK UP! A National Leadership Summit for Women Living with HIVWHAT DO I BRING??

  • Dress – Summit dress code is casual to business casual for hot weather. Bring your best pj’s because you will be sharing a room and we are planning a pajama party! Other suggestions:
  • Beach towels
  • Enough Meds – couple extra days supply just in case
  • Medical insurance card
  • Cellphone charger if you have your cell
  • Laptop and charger if you need one
  • State-issued ID
  • Sunscreen and hat for the sun, bathing suit if you plan to get in pool or ocean
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Extra business cards if you have them for networking
  • $30, in cash or on your debit card, to present at check-in for hotel incidentals (will be refunded)

Upon arrival at the Ramada Plaza Beach Resort:

  • 2 pm: Summit registration
    Fill out a few forms, get your program & conference bag!
  • 3 pm: Hotel check-in
    You will be assigned a shared, double room with mini-fridge & microwave
  • 5 pm: Summit opening session and dinner begins

Florida, here we come!!!

Looks like we made it!
Looks like we made it!

Two Women with HIV Join Obama’s Pool of Top HIV Advisors


Contact: Olivia Ford – – 347.553.5174

September 4, 2014 – Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA) congratulates two of our members, Gina Brown of New Orleans and Grissel Granados of Los Angeles, on their recent appointments to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). PACHA is the premier federal advisory body on the HIV epidemic, and includes a diversity of stakeholders in the HIV field among its roughly two dozen members. Brown, Granados and other incoming PACHA members are being sworn in today in Washington, DC.

gina brown
Gina Brown

“As a member of PACHA, I hope to keep women a vital part of the conversation,” says Brown, a social worker and member of PWN-USA’s Board of Directors who is currently pursuing her second Master’s degree, in Public Policy. Brown brings 12 years of experience on the HIV community’s frontlines – as a case manager, primarily in a Ryan White Part D-funded program working with women, young people and families, as well as a leader in a number of regional and national planning bodies. “I also bring 20 years of being an HIV-positive woman,” Brown adds; “I am looking forward to this exciting new chapter in my journey!”

grissel granados
Grissel Granados

Granados brings a unique perspective as one of the youngest appointees to the Council, a champion for recognition of youth concerns in HIV policy, and an HIV and STI testing coordinator at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “My approach to HIV prevention is influenced by a sex positive lens, social determinants of health, and social justice for disenfranchised communities,” she says; “I am excited to do work at a national level, and I look forward to learning from other seasoned activists.”

“It’s exciting to see more women of color living with HIV coming onto the Council, and they have great expertise to bring,” says PACHA member Cecilia Chung, a PWNer and Chair of the US People Living with HIV Caucus.

“We are proud of Grissel and Gina, and know that they will represent the community of people living with and impacted by HIV well,” says Naina Khanna, Executive Director of PWN-USA and a member of PACHA from 2010-2014. “We look forward to supporting their fierce advocacy on the Council.”

“I welcome them both, as colleagues and advocates,” says Rev. Vanessa Sharp (Cephas), a sitting PACHA member, longtime HIV survivor and advocate, of Granados and Brown. “Together, along with all of the other new and current members of PACHA, we are agents of change! We have much work to do to stay the course and accomplish the goals set before us.”

Sore Arms, No Voice but a Full Heart. The “We Can End AIDS” March in Washington D.C.

Sore Arms, No Voice but a Full Heart. The “We Can End AIDS” March in Washington D.C.

by Barb Cardell

I came to DC totally prepared for the “We Can End AIDS” mobilization, I had my blue fabric to wave, my sensible shoes and even a water bottle. What I missed in the planning was a sense of how incredible and overwhelming it would truly be. My friend Teresa said “It took her breath away.” and I still feel breathless, slightly disoriented but ready for what ever comes next.

Every morning I wake up and feel as if my life has been taken over by Alice in Wonderland, “ I believe in six impossible things before breakfast.”

Today, I marched down the middle of New York Avenue, chanting with so many women and watched an original member of ACT UP along with other organizers tie dollar bills, pill bottles, clean syringes and even panties to the gates of the White House. Okay, breakfast was a bit late but it was a busy, amazing and advocacy affirming day.

There were five different arms in the march, all converging in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. We marched for Human Rights and Harm Reduction, Sound Policies, People over Pharma Profits, the Robin Hood Tax and my arm that called for Ending the War on Women.

We waved blue fabric and chanted that we were “Women Making Waves”. And we were, I walked, surrounded by many of my positive friends both from Colorado and the US Positive Women’s Network and I will admit that I was overcome with the beauty and power of the advocates that I have come to call my sisters.

I don’t know if President Obama was home, it is nice to think he was but it almost doesn’t matter. The march was more for us than for him. We are tired, so many long time advocates and persons living with HIV are exhausted and what this march did was energize us.

And for a moment I could see the end of it all, the end of AIDS, the end of discrimination and criminalization and the war on women’s rights and the companies that put profits over people’s lives. I could see it clear as day and I was overwhelmed that there may be a day, perhaps even close at hand where I won’t have to worry about losing another friend to this scourge of a disease…and so we picked up our sign and marched back down New York Avenue to join in the International AIDS Conference to bring that day to pass because, as we have heard so often this week, we are at a crucial moment in the epidemic and we all have a part to play.