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Positive Women's Network
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The Positive Women's Network (PWN) was formed in 1991, in Vancouver, British Columbia, as a support group run for and by women living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV positive/AIDS) and/or Hepatitis C (HCV). Their values included responding to the needs of individual women through women-specific services, working together as a community of women infected and affected by HIV and/or hepatitis C, recognizing the impact of colonization on the history and experiences of Indigenous women, applying the principles of Greater Involvement of People with AIDS (GIPA) and Meaningful Involvement of Women with AIDS (MIWA), working together across sectors on shared issues and goals, and being a trans-inclusive space that was also child friendly.
In order to achieve these values, the organization offered free programs and resources to women living with HIV and hepatitis C , women who were vulnerable to those diseases, as well as to health care and service providers throughout British Columbia. These programs supported communities in providing a full spectrum of non-judgmental care to women and their families. The PWN provided support and education in the form of advocacy, retreats, a drop-in centre, food bank, hospital visits, a hot lunch program, information and referrals, one to one support sessions, support groups, telephone counselling, and support for family and care providers.
One year after its foundation in 1991, the PWN received an invitation to join the Pacific AIDS Resource Centre (PARC) partnership on Seymour St. in downtown Vancouver. Originally a volunteer based, small peer support group, by 1993 the PWN had hired its first paid staff members, including an executive director, a part-time office coordinator, and a part-time newsletter coordinator. They started producing a quarterly magazine at this time, "The Positive Side" and would continue publishing and distributing it over the course of the next twenty two years. In 1995 the PWN moved into the "Women's Centre" within PARC and began the Physician Education Project to educate health care providers on women’s specific HIV/AIDS related issues. As the organization continued to grow they began several research projects, partnered with AIDS Vancouver and Mclaren Housing, continued with the Health Provider Education Project, launched a female condom campaign, and created the first “Pocket Guide for Women Living with HIV”, published and distributed nationally. By the year 2000 PWN moved to its own office on Davie St.
In 2001 they created and distributed the “HIV & Women Toolkit” and in 2002-03 they launched the Women and AIDS Virtual Education (WAVE) website. They formed a partnership with Youthco and held their first Aboriginal Women’s retreat. Over the next several years they would hold many other retreats, develop a women’s retreat toolkit, and receive an AccolAID Award for Innovative Programs and Services. In 2008 PWN launched the Provincial Service Provider Training Program, and in 2009 they created the Positive Players project including the You Should Know (YSK) website. In 2010 they began the Leadership, Engagement, Action, and Dialogue (LEAD) Provincial Needs Assessment, and launched a peer support training program. By 2012 over 760 HIV + women were members of PWN, and they had 7 full time employees on staff. At this time they launched the Aboriginal Women’s Support Group, and published and distributed the Pocket Guide on Aging for Women with HIV. In April of 2017 the PWN Board of Directors voted to close the organization due to lack of funding and the changing landscape of HIV/AIDS services in British Columbia.
Vancouver, British Columbia
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In 1991, at the time of PWN's founding, the research and services for people living with HIV/AIDS was barely catching up to the AIDS epidemic of the previous decade. Additionally, reactions to the HIV/AIDS epidemic had been focused on male-bodied individuals, and those women who were infected often did not receive women-specific care. HIV/AIDS was still a heavily stigmatized disease, making seeking care and support even more difficult. It was within this context that the PWN was established; a unique organization as the wider response and reaction to the HIV epidemic was not focused on women, or the gender-based health inequities for women living with HIV and HCV.
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Description created by Claire Williams in September 2017.