Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911 and every year, thousands of events occur to mark the achievements of women worldwide, and in some cases, to document present struggles as well as those that lie ahead.
This year’s IWD theme is “Inspiring Change” and in my little corner of the HIV research world, this theme resonates. It makes me think about how women living with HIV/AIDS are inspiring change through their involvement in the HIV movement, in community based research, and in their communities. It makes me reflect on how HIV research has not always served women well, how women were at one time not allowed to participate in clinical trials for HIV treatments because their bodies were “too complicated,” how women have taken a stand, demanding HIV research that reflects their realities, their bodies, their lives, and how women are leading research projects that will most certainly inspire change.
So, in honour of IWD 2014, I’d like to use this space to reflect on HIV research that seeks to improve the lives of women, trans women and girls who are living with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS. So what’s hot in research around women and HIV?
My first stop on this journey is a wonderful new book by Jessica Whitbread called Tea Time: Mapping Informal Networks of Women Living with HIV. This project began as Jessica’s master’s thesis. She was interested in finding a way to build the fragmented and disconnected network of women living with HIV through this community-based research project. Tea Time was a method she used to bring women together, build community, and highlight the health needs of women living with HIV.
The 194-page, hard cover, coffee table book was published in early 2014, and is also available online. The link to the online version came my way a few weeks ago via Twitter, and as soon as I opened the virtual cover, I was enthralled, captured and read almost the entire book in one sitting. Interspersed between images of tea cups from Jessica’s collection are her notes on the method and her academic insights into the project, followed by letters from women who’ve participated in the events – letters that stich together the realities of women living with HIV in honest, compelling, and deeply moving prose.
The voices of these courageous writers continue to ring in my ears, and I am deeply grateful for the insights these stories provide into the challenges, triumphs, and desire for connection among women who have experienced isolation. Research such as this is a powerful reminder of the diversity of women’s experiences, and the importance of women’s voices in the struggle against HIV.
The voices of women and trans people have also been captured in a very important initiative called the Gathering of our Spirits: Canadian Women, Trans People and Girls’ Research Collaborative. I have been honoured to be a part of this initiative that has, over the past few years, developed a national research agenda for women, trans people and girls around HIV/AIDS.
The National Consensus Statement on Women, Trans People and Girls and HIV Research has recently been finalized and is meant to serve as a reference point for HIV researchers and funders across Canada in an effort to help improve our collective response in meeting the needs of women, trans people and girls in all aspects of HIV research – from thNational Consensus Statemente conceptualization stages through to the knowledge translation and exchange activities.
The statement will be launched at the 23rd Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research (CAHR 2014) on May 1, 2014 in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
And to round out this blog journey, I’d like to tip my hat to a few other incredible initiatives that are aimed at improving what we know about women and HIV/AIDS as well as how we act. The Canadian HIV Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort study (CHIWOS) is breaking new ground in both community based and HIV research. This committed team is working to create new knowledge to support women living with HIV to achieve optimal health and wellbeing, and is also empowering peer research associates along the way.
And last, but not least, BC’s very own Positive Women’s Network (PWN) deserves special mention as Canada’s only women-specific AIDS Service Organization. PWN offers support, education and resources for women living with HIV and for service providers, and they have one of the most active HIV-related Twitter accounts across the country. Their yearly Spring Board Conference – this year on May 8 – offers a learning opportunity where research around women and HIV is made accessible and serves as a jumping point for dialogue.Happy International Women’s Day everyone!
Questions? Feedback? Get in touch!
Andrea Langlois, Community-Based Research Manager
This articile originally appeared on Pacific AIDS Network's website here.