Now I have decided to use this blog to record my experience of being part of the Programme Committee for the next International AIDS Conference which will take place in Vienna in July 2010.
How did I happen to be here?
My first International AIDS Conference was in 2006 in Toronto. I described that week as the worst week of my life! Days starting at 6 am with sessions until night, demonstrations, networking dinners, jetlag, being with other 20.000 people all day, the noise, the crowd, the amount of information to take in… One day I went back to my room early (around 5) thinking of taking a nap before having dinner with some other activists, but woke up the morning after. That’s how exhausted I was. I even missed dinner!
One of the most important momenst for me in Toronto was seeing Louise Binder, an HIV+ lawyer and AIDS activist speak at one of the last plenary sessions…Her opening words ‘ I want to speak with you about power…the driving force behind the HIV epidemic today. Where power resides, the virus recedes. Where it does not, the virus thrives. Today, the virus is thriving…’
By the end of the conference I had a resolution. I had to manifest my power, OUR power. I knew that the work we do at PW had a lot to offer to this conference. I told myself…I am not coming back to this hell unless I will be offering some of what I have learned…
Fast forward 2 years and in 2008 I had an abstract accepted for an Oral Presentation for the conference in Mexico. My abstract talked of how working together with ICW we had supported the advocacy and leadership skills of 25 Regional Coordinators, developing PozFem UK, the national network of women living with HIV.
So what next? I told myself…Maybe being part of making the conference happen…? Be careful what you wish for…. A friend I made in Mexico suggested I applied to be in one of the Track Committees. So I did. And so I got selected to sit in the Leadership and Accountability Track Committee.
Today during the first brainstorming meeting we were asked what we hoped to achieve with the next conference and I told them the story I just told you. I concluded that I want the conference to be an opportunity to develop leadership skills at the grassroots, especially among women.
I felt so intimidated today, everybody seems a professor, or working for UNAIDS or WHO and once again I doubted myself…. I have lived with HIV for 13 years volunteered and worked at PW for 10, I have visited positive women in prison for the past 8 years. But I still doubted my knowledge, experience, commitment and passion in front of so many ‘big’ people. I know I shouldn’t. One week doesn’t go without me not listening from other women who live in so called ‘civilized’ Britain of horrible experiences about fear, shame, blame, rejection and physical and mental abuse and violence. And in spite of this I have seen how through the support they receive from other of us who live with HIV they learn to deal with whatever they are facing, and sometimes even become activists.
I know that if I am not here talking about what I have heard from so many of us, in support groups, or when I go to prison…who is going to do it for us? I hope that me being here will bring many more of us to Vienna in 2010 not just as spectator but as central actors.
Well I better get off my soap box and go to bed now…I have a long few days ahead of me and I better be fresh and rested.