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Working Group for Women and HIV Falls Far Below Radar

By Candace Y.A. Montague

April 5, 2012

Focusing on women and HIV is long overdue. Photo credit:

Focusing on women and HIV is long overdue. Photo credit:

Here's a story that you're probably not hearing much about. But I cannot remain silent on it. Allow me to make some noise for a moment. Last month during PACHA's meeting on women and girls, the White House established a crucial working group for women and girls and HIV, a timely move for a movement that has been focused on gay men for many years.

President Obama established a working group focused on women and girls in the wake of the two-year anniversary of the National AIDS Strategy that, sadly, glossed over the issue of violence against women among other things.   The group is charged with providing recommendations on how the National HIV/AIDS strategy could be improved.  Violence against women and HIV are highly linked. Women who experience violence and trauma are more vulnerable to contracting HIV. How much more vulnerable? Well, according to a study done by Dr. Edward Machtinger, who heads the University of California-San Francisco's Women's HIV Program, 55 percent of HIV positive women have experienced domestic violence.  In fact HIV positive women are two to six times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder.  These stats merely scratch the surface as far as women and HIV goes.

The establishment of this working group, however, is a testament to how far up on the "to-do" list women must be in order for the AIDS community as a whole make some real change towards ending the epidemic.  In addition to making recommendations for the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the group must also specifically provide

That's a mouthful right there but so critical when you talk about an issue that has been overlooked for too long. "Violence against women and HIV are correlated. It makes them more vulnerable to contracting the virus. But it also is a crisis for women with HIV.  So this is a big deal when the President is drawing attention to this issue," says Naina Khanna, policy director of Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease (WORLD) and coordinator of the U.S. Positive Women's Network.

The question now is how does this plan look in action. What's the next step? When is it going to happen? What are the outcomes? And what kind of accountability measures will be in place to be sure that everything that can be done is done? "There's going to have to be more resources directed towards more gender sensitive programming. For example, that memorandum calls for specifically looking at gender sensitive healthcare that integrates sexual and reproductive health, partner violence, and HIV care.  That is something that we will push for in the weeks to come," says Khanna. Women have become disposable, especially in this epidemic. Time to focus on what really matters. Safe, healthy lives for all.

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