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Why This Election Matters to Women Living With and Affected by HIV/AIDS

June 1, 2012

Latino Commission on AIDS President Guillermo Chacon.

The 2012 presidential election is significant for The Women's Collective because it has implications for the sexual and reproductive health rights of women; for the access and quality of care and support for women and girls living with and at-risk for HIV/AIDS; and for the overall presence, voice, and leadership of women-and women of color-on issues that affect our lives.

At The Women's Collective, we are working hard to ensure that our community and staff understand what's at stake in this upcoming election and that they vote based on the issues that are important to them.  We see our role as a motivator and want to encourage those in the HIV community to recognize how their votes can shape the future of HIV prevention and care.  This is especially important for women.  In this election we will see the sexual and reproductive rights of women debated in local and national elections.  Across this country, women and girls are having their rights to birth control, abortion and comprehensive sex education challenged.  This is an important issue for all women, but women living with HIV are doubly impacted by restrictive laws that may force them to disclose their HIV status in order to have their employers' health insurance cover the cost of their birth control.

There are a host of relevant questions that local and national politicians will be tasked with answering.  The HIV community cannot afford to be unaware and uninformed on these important issues.


How Will Ryan White Be Reauthorized?

Ryan White has been the safety net to support people living with HIV for over 20 years.  The decrease in perinatal HIV infections has placed Part D of this program on the chopping block because some have failed to recognize the life-saving influence of this program on women and girls living with HIV.  Support services such as transportation, patient advocates and childcare are essential to maintaining treatment for women and girls.  Funding for these resources is already failing to fulfill the current need.  Cuts to Part D only exacerbate the situation and may signal the coming of an end to Ryan White.

What Happens to Health Care Reform?

The Supreme Court is currently mulling over this decision but it is relevant in the next political cycle. If the highest court chooses to uphold this decision then our lawmakers will be tasked with ensuring that it is effectively implemented.  If it is overturned, then they will need to find other ways to address the health care coverage gap.  Too many people already are on AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) waiting lists and too many women of color need health insurance assistance but don't qualify to be placed on a waiting list.  The cost of health care is even too steep for those that are insured.  Many people work hard day after day but are unable to obtain life-saving medications because of their expensive prescription co-pays.

Will Our National HIV/AIDS Strategy Mean Anything?

The women's community is still fighting to have the National HIV/AIDS strategy include issues that are relevant to the prevention, care and support needs of women.  This is a relevant and essential battle but if we elect administrations that don't see HIV/AIDS as a priority then our fight will seem irrelevant.   There must be a dedication of funds and infrastructure to ensure that the Strategy is implemented and the meaningful participation of women, especially HIV positive women, is supported.  Otherwise, we will all lose.

How Do We Address the Issue of Poverty and HIV?

In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results from a study that demonstrated epidemic levels of HIV infection among heterosexuals in high-poverty urban areas.1 A generalized epidemic is defined as a rate of 1% or more.  This report indicated infection levels of 2.1%.   Individuals and organizations that have been working in this field for years know that HIV prevention requires more than condoms and HIV care requires more than medical treatment.  We must address issues of poverty, housing, stigma, violence against women, and racism to effectively combat the spread of HIV. We must ensure linkage to care, peer support services, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and self-esteem building programs to effectively ensure that HIV positive individuals live well and maintain medical treatment for HIV and comorbidities.  We need leaders who are committed to ensuring access to quality education, decent paying jobs, medical care, and social support services.  Any candidate who doesn't see poverty as a core issue doesn't see HIV as a core issue that continues to undermine the long-term health of our country.

In May 2012, AIDS United provided our agency with training to aid us in identifying ways that we can effectively advocate for the changes that are critical to our health and wellbeing using our voice and the voices of the communities of girls and women we serve.  The training alerted us to ways that we can encourage and train women to be active in the political process.  It assisted us in clarifying our role in the community and pushed us to ensure that our clients and allies take the political process-and their voice in it seriously.

The state of HIV in this country pushes us to be assertive, not ambivalent. We and the women, girls, families, and communities we serve want to see the realization of the dream of an HIV free generation and we understand that this cannot happen unless we are an active, informed, and voting body in every part of the process.   While it is not our responsibility to tell people how to vote (in fact we can't tell people how to vote), we are committed to informing those we serve about the many ways that their vote affects their daily lives and their future well-being.  In the race to November, we will continue to motivate the women, girls, families, and communities we serve to exercise the power of their vote and test the limits of their self-advocacy.

A Washington DC-based nonprofit organization led by women with HIV and their allies/advocates, The Women's Collective (TWC)'s mission is to meet the self-defined needs of women, girls and their families living with or at-risk for HIV/AIDS, reducing barriers to care and strengthening their network of support and services



Tinselyn Simms-Hall is policy & advocacy coordinator at The Women's Collective.

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This article was provided by AIDS United. Visit AIDS United's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
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