The National Day of Women Living with HIV in Australia is an annual event that aims to promote the profile of positive women. Saturday 9 March is an opportunity for the diverse voices of positive women to be heard and their individual stories to be told. Women living with HIV come from every walk of life, ethnicity, and socio-economic background — which makes each story unique.
“With the national interest already focussed on gender equity, what better time to highlight the remarkable journeys of positive women and to celebrate their incredible resilience,” says Katherine Leane — Convenor of Australia’s national network of women living with HIV, the Femfatales.
The National Day of Women Living with HIV also serves as an opportunity for the approximately 3,000 positive women in Australia to unite and share their lived experiences. While new diagnoses continue to decline among gay men in Australia, rates of HIV among women are rising — particularly among those from culturally diverse backgrounds and those within the Indigenous population. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage HIV. "Testing is often not on women's radars, it’s also not on the minds of healthcare practitioners and some GPs,” says Leane.
And while any person living with HIV can be subject to discrimination, HIV-positive women in Australia experience greater levels of stigma and have less support to draw upon. Out of fear of stigma and discrimination, positive women are less likely to engage in care and participate in education programs.
The theme of 2019’s national day — “women are stronger together” — aims to encourage women with HIV to reach out to one another and seek support. Strong support networks are crucial to physical and mental wellbeing. Whereas gay men diagnosed with HIV already have a built-in support system to lean upon, women tend to be more isolated around their positive diagnosis and are less likely to be connected to their peers in the HIV community.
"Women tend to go underground and feel unable to disclose their status,” says Leane. “We’re a minority within a minority — we need to stand together. Through peer networking we can generate essential care and support that ensures women living with HIV in Australia have a strong voice.”