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Opinion

Young Women Living With HIV Deserve Support and Leadership Roles in HIV Community

PWN-USA Statement for National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

April 8, 2016

Young women living with HIV have unique needs that often go unaddressed. HIV stigma, discrimination, ageism, complexities of treatment regimens and economic challenges present a unique set of barriers to care and service delivery that can result in isolation, depression and poor health outcomes. Navigating disclosure, dating, sex, employment, education and parenting may be entirely different for young people living with HIV than for older adults. For those born with HIV, the realities of being a long-term survivor at age 20, 30, or 35 may have particular physical and psychological implications. In the United States, mass incarceration, community violence and growing economic inequality may be affecting young generations impacted by HIV in unprecedented ways.

"When we talk about the needs of women, social support is critically important to our overall wellbeing," says Grissel Granados, a young woman born with HIV who currently works as an HIV and STI testing coordinator in Los Angeles, and who released a documentary last year, We're Still Here, exploring the complexities and challenges of growing up with an HIV diagnosis. "Even as we have seen funding cut for women's support groups, communities of women have found ways to come together anyway. However, for young women living with HIV, it is much harder for them to create community with other young women -- being that they are so few in numbers in any given city, young women don't even know each other. There are not enough young women participating in larger HIV spaces because their needs are not being addressed and because they are not seeing themselves. As a larger community of HIV advocates, we need to make sure that we are intentional about including young women and supporting spaces that can bring young women together, even if it's just to build a network for social support."

In honor of this year's National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD), Positive Women's Network - USA (PWN-USA) calls for a national commitment to addressing the needs and upholding the rights of young people living with and vulnerable to HIV. Advocates for Youth has just released a NYHAAD Bill of Rights, proclaiming:

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  1. The right to live free from oppression,
  2. The right to education,
  3. The right to prevention,
  4. The right to care and treatment, and
  5. The right to live free from criminalization, discrimination and stigma.

"It's an aspiration of mine to see something like this NYHAAD Bill of Rights in full motion because our young people are worthy to walk in this world with all provided tools, absolute support and love," says Tranisha Arzah, a PWN-USA Board Member born with HIV who works as a peer advocate in Seattle. "If we demand these rights, with the full support of the larger community, young people can not only thrive but lead the way toward a future where barriers to prevention, treatment and care like stigma and discrimination no longer exist."

PWN-USA wholeheartedly endorses this bill of rights. As we move well into the fourth decade of the HIV epidemic, we further call on the HIV community to endorse and actively promote leadership by young people living with HIV. We believe that if this epidemic ever sees its end, it will be because of effective, supportive and strategic intergenerational leadership building on the lessons of the past while looking toward a radical and visionary future.

PWN-USA is fully committed to empowering and supporting young women living with HIV to organize and strategize; to demanding and upholding their rights to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive care, that works for them and meets their unique needs; and to ensuring their meaningful participation in decision-making spaces.

We urge young women to present at and/or attend 2016 SPEAK UP! A National Leadership Summit for Women Living with HIV, where they will be welcomed, embraced and where they can educate other women on their needs, concerns and vision.

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This article was provided by Positive Women's Network of the United States of America. Visit PWN-USA's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
 

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