The Catwalk for Power, Resistance, and Hope
Wednesday, 7 March 2018 at Brixton East 1871 (100 Barrington Road, SW9 7NS)
On 7 March, in the centenary year of women’s right to vote in the UK, ‘The Catwalk for Power, Resistance, and Hope’ will take place in Brixton as a creative, direct action to acknowledge the bravery and struggles that women living with HIV face.
Wearing their fashion with powerful messages, women living with HIV will celebrate their individual strength, collective solidarity and creativity. This event will raise tough questions on the realities of women living with HIV, calling out issues rooted in extreme inequality such as racism, high levels of violence against women and girls, poverty, and the consequences of cuts to health and social support services. HIV activist, Laura Kwardem acknowledges, “These are areas where addressing HIV stigma is challenging territory, especially for women hiding in fear due to a lack of individual and community education on HIV transmission and prevention, even in the era of U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) and PreP (Pre- exposure prophylaxis). Women are the second largest group living with HIV, with BAME women making up 80% of the population accessing HIV healthcare (Public Health England, November 2017). It is under these conditions that, numerous, nation-wide HIV support services have been shut down (National AIDS Trust, 2017). Lambeth, an area with the highest HIV rates across Europe, has suffered a stark reduction in vital HIV services.
This International Women’s Day, women will rise up with urgency, to demand that they be equally and unreservedly focused on, in all aspects of UK HIV policy, practice and research. Women want action now for the effective prevention and management of HIV as it exists in their lives as either a manageable condition or preventable infection. Silvia Petretti, Deputy CEO of Positively UK asserted, “As Women with HIV we feel that not enough has been done to actively include women from all backgrounds in policy and research that affect us. The recently announced decrease in new HIV acquisitions, while welcome news, is focused to 5 clinics in central London that serve mainly men who have sex with men, (MSM) . We say: no one should be left behind.”
Origin of ‘The Catwalk for Power, Resistance, and Hope’
Positively UK Women and Act Up London Women have been building a powerful, grass- roots lobbying coalition and creative community. ‘The Catwalk for Power…’ has enabled leadership and voice to surface from an established group of women living with HIV. Since late 2017, the group has been engaged in creative workshops that have evolved as safe spaces shaped by women, full of creative possibilities and opportunities to lead with feminist voice, respect, and visibility. These women are aware of the difficult paradox of finding voice in a social climate of great stigma and hostility towards migrants, but they remain committed to strengthening themselves and their allies through education on HIV healthcare, women’s sexual and reproductive rights, holistic health, and social inclusivity. Our activist ancestry tells us that women will need to shout above societal ambivalence, to be heard by policy makers, healthcare organisations, and the public.
In 2003, Sarah Shulman elicited the following response from fellow Act Up activist, Ann Northrup: “I certainly think that women have to take responsibility for themselves in their own situation, and they have to get over expecting men – I think women have to take the power, is the real answer”.
Women living with HIV and their allies heed these words and they will take up space, reclaim their power, shout loud, and make change happen.
Contact for media interviews: Silvia Petretti – Tel. 0207 713 0444
#WomenHIV #AmandlaAwethu #PressforProgress
REFERENCES AND NOTES
1. Undetectable = Untransmittable’ (U=U) is a campaign to promote awareness that “A person living with HIV who has undetectable viral load does not transmit HIV to their partners”. The U=U consensus statement has been signed by hundreds of scientists and leading HIV organizations around the world. https://www.preventionaccess.org/consensus
2. PrEP is a single pill that can prevent HIV transmission. While it is already available in Scotland, and Wales. It still has not available to all who need it in England.
3. National AIDS Trust, 2017, ‘State of the Nations – Exec Summary’,
4. Public Health England, November 2017, ‘Towards the Elimination of HIV Transmission and AIDS and HIV related Deaths in the UK , https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/675809/Towards_elimin ation_of_HIV_transmission_AIDS_and_HIV_related_deaths_in_the_UK.pdf
5Act Up Oral History Project, May 2003, ‘Strong and Angry’, (Ann Northrop interviewed by Sarah Schulman), http://www.actuporalhistory.org/interviews/interviews_05.html#northrop
Positively UK positivelyuk.org
Positively UK is a national charity providing peer-led services to people with HIV. It has a powerful matriarchal history, with roots that stretch back to the early days of the AIDS crisis in London. In 1987, two young women, Sheila and Jayne, self-organised to form the first ever UK-based peer support group for women living with HIV. Their small, local group ‘Positively Women’ served as a powerful springboard that became a registered charity in 1990, launched by committed HIV/AIDS campaigner, HRH Dianna Princess of Wales. In 2010, the organisation re-branded as Positively UK and expanded its powerful model of peer support to all people living with HIV nationally. The presence of women as leaders and organisers is still a key component of Positively UK’s community building and support services.
Act Up London actuplondon.wordpress.com
Act Up London Women are a subset of the legendary HIV/AIDS direct action group, Act Up, that formed in New York City in 1987, in response to what Larry Kramer labelled the ‘AIDS plague’. Access to HIV/AIDS treatments and medicines was achieved, saving the lives of millions, as a direct result of Act Up’s unrelenting lobbying and multiplicitous protest tactics aimed at federal and pharmaceutical organisations. Today, Act Up chapters function globally as independent, local lobbyists and as a unified, global coalition, to fight stigma and the second silence (see note below).
Playwright and author, Larry Kramer, is an American Act Up HIV/AIDS and LGBTQI+ activist who was instrumental in early protest struggles and public speaking on access to HIV/AIDS medicine treatments.
The ‘second silence’ refers to the current social situation where knowledge of the global HIV pandemic is limited due to a lack of widespread education and therefore stigma can immobilise those who live with the virus.
Sarah Schulman has been a pioneering Act Up NYC activist and is an AIDS historian. She is a writer and screenwriter, serving as a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at College of Staten Island, US, and a fellow at NY Institute for the Humanities.
Ann Northrop is another pioneering HIV/AIDS activist, integral to early Act Up activism in NYC, US. She is a journalist and hosts the Gay USA TV news programme.
Invisible no Longer Our group acknowledges the recent excellent work of Terrence Higgins Trust and Sophia Forum, in undertaking the first truly targeted research to ascertain women-specific experiences of living with HIV and HIV prevention in the UK. (‘Invisible No Longer: Women and HIV’ findings to be published in April 2018) http://www.tht.org.uk/get-involved/Campaign/Our-campaigns/Women-and-HIV-Invisible-No- Longer