Women With HIV in Strife

Malawi PostFunny how sharp cuts to government funding seem to generate turmoil at any number of G.A.Y.* organisations. At the same time as the LGTBTI Health Alliance gasps out its last, The National Association for People Living with HIV AIDS (NAPWHA) has also run into strife.

Exactly how much strife is unclear. While declining to go on the record, sources within NAPWHA describe the situation as a series of misunderstandings which are now largely resolved. And after an initial and alarming outburst, the women involved have also fallen silent, not responding to approaches.

The troubles came to light when a resignation letter from NAPWHA Board Member Diane Nyomi surfaced on Facebook. You can find it here on the page of the International Congress on AIDS in Asia Pacific and the text is appended in full below.

The letter was posted online by Kim Davis, apparently countersigned by her, Lara Kruizinga and Sharon Vaughan, although doubts have been raised as to exactly who countersigned the letter, and who has actually resigned. the stirrer sought a statement from NAPWHA, but none was forthcoming, and no response has been received to emails to the four women (though the latter is not surprising, since the letter writer or writers seem to have had a gutful of gay men).

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a sector source commented that, while they had no knowledge of the specific situation, the letter rang true in many respects. The AIDS epidemic in Australia has been overwhelmingly a gay male epidemic. In consequence, gay men have tended to dominate the sector, and funding has been directed overwhelmingly to addressing their concerns. Women with HIV have tended to get left behind. And this may be significant, as evidence is emerging that women may metabolise antiretroviral drugs differently to men, and suffer different side effects. They are also under-represented in clinical trials.

In this context, parts of the letter make some sense:

I cannot be congruent with a Organization that thinks all communication should be censored by a man (secretariat) all decisions approved by a male Board and EO, statements such as “the women seemed to be able to…” are nothing less than condescending and insulting to WHIV.
For WHIV to have a autonomous voice it needs to not only be a voice by WHIV but a voice that is not controlled by the MSM men who feel a sense of ownership of the PHIV.

The source found other parts of the letter disturbing, revealing what he described as a concerning level of homophobia:

I do not want to work in an environment where men are greeted by grabbing other men’s crutches or simulating sex acts or using language that is offensive to non-gay men. This all being couched in the nuance of GAY culture therefore it makes it ok and we have to accept such a work landscape.

That is of course all of a piece with feeling uncomfortable in an organisation and a working environment managed, controlled and dominated by gay men (who are forced to censor their behaviour and presentation in majority dominated heterosexual society).

Not an easy situation to fix, but I can’t help feeling that nothing will change while everyone continues to retreat to their burrows and declines to thrash out the issues publicly. And while NAPWHA continues to try to sweep the issue under the carpet.

*G.A.Y. = Good As You (the acronym formerly known as LGBTIQQ2A+)

Text of the women’s resignation letter

25th February

RE: RESIGNATION
Australian Women with HIV

Dear NAPWHA Board,

After deep consideration and many hours of resolve I have decided it is necessary for me to disengage as a Board member of NAPWHA, an organization that in my opinion does not align its self with good work practices and is entrenched with gender inequalities. As a Woman with HIV I advocate for Equality and Equity for all People with HIV, thus I must resign or be perceived as condoning this perpetuated inequality.

Friday last almost a week after the board meeting the president at my request rang, he talked and I listened with interest to his recommendations the suggestion that I step away from my role as Chair of the Network of Women Living with HIV.

The president also notified me that the agreement of the board to state our autonomy at the NAPWHA Board meeting on Saturday the 13th in response to a decision that was made by a quorum of the WHIV network teleconference on the Wed 10th March was in hindsight not the view of NAPWHA and indeed a mistake. Reflecting on the conversation with the President of NAPWHA on the view of NAPWHA toward the network I had to sit in a place of authenticity, as a woman as a woman with HIV.

I found myself questioning my support and countless hours of work (unpaid) leading, directing, encouraging and supporting.

Enforcing a lack of autonomy does not resonate with a network for WHIV by WHIV and breaches the ideal of equality for women.
WHIV should not sit in a tokenistic place, we should not be an afterthought, and we should not be controlled in our communications we should not be defined by others.

It feels like discrimination, it feels like colonization tactics, it feels like we are the marginalized community that you, as MSM know and have experienced yourselves, this is inappropriate practice and cannot be ignored.

WHIV do not need permission to coexist we should not be happy or grateful because you allowed us to do something. We require equity, a seat at the table and our own platform to drive the voice of WHIV.
I have lived in Domestic Violence as do 1 in 3 woman in Australia, I was victorious to remove myself from the control, and the inappropriate behavior the language that belittles and marginalizes me as a woman I have no intensions of allowing that to filtrate into my life again.

I cannot be congruent with a Organization that thinks all communication should be censored by a man (secretariat) all decisions approved by a male Board and EO, statements such as “the women seemed to be able to…” are nothing less than condescending and insulting to WHIV.
For WHIV to have a autonomous voice it needs to not only be a voice by WHIV but a voice that is not controlled by the MSM men who feel a sense of ownership of the PHIV.

Women face issues that do not align with a mans experience of HIV as reproductive health, roles as mothers and wives, often coming from a lower socio-economic point of difference, navigating violence, differing health outcomes to medication due to physiological differences, lifestyle differences and in this case equality differences.

I do not want to work in an environment where men are greeted by grabbing other men’s crutches or simulating sex acts or using language that is offensive to non-gay men. This all being couched in the nuance of GAY culture therefore it makes it ok and we have to accept such a work landscape. EO’s who are supported/protected from inappropriate sexually driven behavior have almost forced me to leave the HIV sector all together.

Explanations by the president of the ‘vanilla gay’ and ‘hyper-sexualized gay’ in relation to the behaviors and cultures of gay men should not be an acceptable conversation in any work environment that is inclusive of women. The Board of that organization should be dealing with this behavior and you as a peak body of that organization should not be seen to condone a member organization’s lack of keeping best practice when it comes to inappropriate sexual abuse and abuse of power with staff! By remaining silent about this I assert this only perpetuates your condoning such work practice.

NAPWHA supports EO’s in their member organizations with this behavior and quite frankly this goes against any best practice in all work environments in 2016 in Australia.
The lack of female appropriate service provision in this country in 2016 3 decades into the HIV is appalling!
The only way this will change is if WHIV lead this and are respected to sit at the table and be the authority voice in this space.

As NAPWHA has perpetuated this working practice for years it seems that it is embedded, part of the culture and cannot or will not respect the need for autonomy for women with HIV all that I have said leads me to tender this resignation from the NAPWHA Board effective immediately. I will attach also a resignation to the Chair and Network of Women Living with HIV.

Sincerely and with autonomy,

Dianne Nyoni

RE: RESIGNATION
Dianne Nyoni, Kim Davis, Lara Kruizinga and Sharon Vaughan
24th February 2016

Dear NAPWHA Board and Femfatales,

We the women of the Network Dianne Nyoni, Kim Davis, Lara Kruizinga and Sharon Vaughan inform you, that we are stepping down from the National Network of Women Living with HIV ~ ‘Femfatales’.

For a quarter of a century we have attempted to invest our expert skills and knowledge in this Network of WHIV, controlled NAPWHA. Our voices have been stifled at every turn, we have been refused self-determination and social justice, the lack of gender equality is bewildering. Our futile attempt to further the authentic voice of our combined lived experience as WHIV has reached breaking point. We women from Qld, NSW and Victoria follow the other women who have left in recent years, also refusing to accept this status quo.

We will not accept anything less than autonomy therefore we feel there is no future for women with HIV under these conditions.

We look forward to working with women who, in the spirit of unity and common goal, can drive our own voice, have the strength and fortitude to sit in authenticity and congruent to their values and beliefs for a better model in the HIV sector for WHIV Australia wide.

Over the last three decades the lack of autonomous voices for WHIV is unacceptable in the HIV response. I think we should highlight there is an increase in women being diagnosed and that URGENT action is required. The figures just keep going up & everyone keeps ignoring women as a target population.

Therefore, effective immediately I will tender my formal resignation as Chair and we Dianne Nyoni, Kim Davis, Lara Kruizinga and Sharon Vaughan members of this network withdraw ourselves and resign in protest of NAPWHAs permeating behavior towards women with HIV. As NAPWHA is the National Body for all People with HIV, they have a responsibility to lead the way in best practices in the HIV sector. We will not submit to a tokenistic role. As women contracting HIV in Australia is increasing, action is required and we will not be hindered any longer. Quite frankly we have had enough!

Moving forward,

Dianne Nyoni
Kim Davis
Lara Kruizinga
Sharon Vaughan

Warm Regards

Kim Davis
Director
GloballyAware

POSITIVELY FABULOUS
Changing Women’s Lives

Co-Creative Arts, Women, HIV,
Harm Reduction, Human Rights
Asia/Pacific

 

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years.

“Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe.” (Daniel Witthaus, “Beyond Priscilla”, Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)