Positive Women's Network Launches Online Advocacy Tool for People Living With HIV

Naina Khanna (right), the executive director of Positive Women's Network-USA, and Stacy Jennings, co-chair of the organization's South Carolina regional chapter, in 2018 during SPEAK UP!, a national leadership summit for women living with HIV.
Johnnie Ray Kornegay III

During last week's State of the Union address, President Donald J. Trump made a promise to U.S. citizens to end AIDS.

"In recent years, we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS," said President Trump in front of Congress and the world. "Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach. My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years. We have made incredible strides. Incredible. Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond."

Though the reactions among advocates within the HIV community have been mixed, most have agreed that in order to truly end the epidemic, it will take more activism to ensure the kind of policy, programs, and funding levels are in place to do more than end the epidemic for the already privileged few. Whether Trump had made this announcement or not, Positive Women's Network-USA (PWN) was prepared -- last week, PWN launched a tool for people living with HIV to learn about advocacy.

"Claim Your Seat at the Table! A How-To Guide to Advocacy for People Living with HIV" is a comprehensive set of online tools for people living with HIV to get involved and make their voice heard in the policy-making process.

"HIV advocacy is not something most of us planned to take on. Many of us fell into community organizing and advocating because our lives -- and the lives of people we love -- literally depended on it," said Waheedah Shabazz-El, organizing director with PWN. "We learn as we go, at conferences, through mentors, and through trial and error with our campaigns. This toolkit is a much-needed resource for both newer and more experienced advocates to feel more confident as they are getting involved in state and federal advocacy."

PWN is a national membership organization founded in 2008 that strives to help strengthen the power of women living with HIV/AIDS and push for policy agendas rooted in human rights and social justice.

Evany Turk, membership engagement coordinator with PWN, said that the toolkit is a perfect module for people who want to engage in large- and small-scale efforts.

"We know that many members want to be involved and take action, and their lives are being impacted by policies federal and local," Turk said in a phone interview. "In order to do that, they need the tools to do it. And it doesn't have to be this monumental thing to be involved in advocacy. You can actually take action yourself and take a smaller step -- an individual meeting, an individual letter -- or join with a bigger group to do something to effect change."

Turk continued, "Right now, with the current administration we have, there are a lot of things that people want to take action around, and we wanted to make sure people had the tools to do that."

The entire guide is currently available online. However, PWN plans a roll-out of each of the five parts in order to unpack key elements.

Part 1 starts with the "ABC's of advocacy": the structure of government, how policies are made, and how advocates can influence those policies. Part 2 unpacks different types of advocacy -- legislative, budget, and administrative -- with pointers on when and how to engage in each type. Part 3 deals with campaign planning and execution. Part 4 teaches how to create effective messaging. The fifth section, a DIY Starter Kit, is a packed resource hub with templates and examples to make the process easier for advocates.

Key documents inside the toolkit include instruction on how to write your member of Congress and how to create an action alert or a best practices guide. There are resources to help advocates write fact sheets and policy briefs. The toolkit even has guidelines to ensure you cite your facts properly.

Katie Willingham, community co-chair with the Alabama HIV Prevention and Care Planning Group and the PWN-USA Alabama state lead, was eager to share the tool.

"We're really excited about it," Willingham said. "We want to give women of all walks of life the opportunity to get started on their advocacy or build on their advocacy. A lot of people don't know where to start, they may not know advocacy organizations, and this toolkit gives them the knowledge to get started and a cache of tools."

"We are facing unprecedented policy battles as well as opportunities. Winning will take all of us. That means our folks need to be prepared, equipped, and resourced so we can fight effectively together," explained Naina Khanna, PWN's executive director. "We hope this guide will be useful for anyone who wants to take bold, progressive action aligned with our vision and policy agenda. PWN will be training our constituency to use these resources throughout 2019 and as we get ready for 2020."