PozFem Spring meeting was held in London from the 15th to the 19th of April. We were 25 HIV+ women from England, Wales and Scotland. The women from Ireland had been prevented from coming by the Icelandic volcanic ash.
I have rarely seen such a diverse bunch of women: young, old, from different continents, many with stories of escaping violence, in their homes, or countries. Coming to Europe to look for protection. Some still waiting, from the Home Office for what we just call “status”. Immigration status. Leave to remain in the UK. Some of us had experienced prison, drugs, mental institutions. Some of us ordinary mothers and wives. What we have in common is HIV and the willingness to do something about it.
On Thursday evening our first members started to arrive. Many were tired because they had worked all week and came straight from the office. The train journeys were often several hours.
In spite of the tiredness on Friday morning everybody was punctual. Bright eyes, and excitement were in the air. The reason why we met on London was that on the past meeting we had decided that if we want to change perceptions of HIV and we want to fight to keep alive the services that support us, we need to learn more about how we can influence the political system.
So our plan for the day was to visit the House of Commons and participate to a training on keeping HIV on the political agenda. The training was offered by Veronica Oakeshott from the All Parties Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS.
Veronica highlighted how election time is a sensitive time for lobbying. Obviously candidates want to be elected so we can ask them about their commitment to HIV if they want our vote. However MPs are also very busy at this time so it may be difficult to get a response. Veronica also showed us how to prepare a letter to be sent to our MP, whoever she/he will be, as soon as they are elected to ask them to do something about HIV.
Some of the key points to remember, when you write to your MP are:
MPs are our employees, we have elected them and are they paid with our taxes. They have a duty to read our letters, give us a reply and hopefully take action. If we don’t get a reply after a few weeks we should call their offices and follow-up.
The more letters they receive on an issue the more likely they are to do something about it. So you could ask your, friends and family members who live in your same area to also write a similar letter to yours.
Resist the temptation to rant. It is difficult, especially after the expenses scandal.
Keep it brief and to the point.
State what you would like them to do for you (for example continue support women centred HIV services, or provide ARVs to all immigrants, regardless of immigration status).
You may want to suggest your MP to meet with you, or with a group of women from the support group you belong to.
You can also invite your MP to join the All Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS, where they can learn more on HIV and its policy implications.
At the end of the meeting all of us had produced a letter to send to our MPs. And we have all promised to send it.
If you would like to do the same, but don’t know who your MP is you can find out here.
If you would like some inspiration for your letter you can have a look at mine here.
The PozFem members came out of the 2 hours training with even brighter eyes. Clutching the handwritten letters in their hands. They all promised to send me a copy once they have typed them so I can upload them on the PozFem website as a resource for other women living with HIV who want to write to their MPs.
Hopefully you will also write one to yours.