It”s my birthday. I am 47 years old today. I would have never thought I would be alive today when I was diagnosed at 30. I don”t feel prepared for the wrinkles and ageing. I have badly suppressed anxieties about the future: who is going to look after me when I am old, and my body and organs are tired from decades of ARTs? HIV came with a lot of hidden gifts, insights, and added purpose to my life. But I can’t help asking myself: wouldn’t I maybe have a family if I wasn’t HIV positive? I spent most of my twenties dealing with my mental health issues,my mother”s death,my demented father ( he had Alzheimer), my thirties where dedicated to overcome my HIV diagnosis and mere survival. I was 39 years old when I started thinking I maybe was ready to have a baby… But the relationship I was in imploded, also because of the long shadow of HIV. I didn’t feel I could be a one person family. I think things could have been different without HIV.
I put all my love,all my energy in being an activist. It has been amazing in many ways and to my surprise I have created for myself a HIV family which is way more inspirational and supportive than many traditional families. One of the struggles i have embraced wholeheartedly is that of addressing the links between HIV and Gender Based Violence in the UK. it was so heart warming on the 14th of February to see the room of the House of Lords filled to the bream with people. The Sophia Forum, of which I am a trustee, was launching a report on a feasibility study on the links between Gender Based Violence (GBV) and HIV. So many people arrived we were worried we would have to turn them away. But it showed that it was much more than a handful of people who were concerned.
During the day we had many shocking presentations that showed how violence permeates the lives of women living with HIV in the UK. Violence takes so many forms, it can be in the home, by partners, by other family members, it can happen in institutions including mental health services, prisons, ante natal services. All the presentations and the report are available on the Sophia Forum website.
The launch was a great success and showed that women from all walks of life, academics, health practitioners, people who work in domestic violence services, and of course women living with HIV want actions to stop all those abuses of power. At present violence continues. And violence is not just physical and emotional, violence is also economical. The constant lack of funding for work with and for women with HIV is also violence. The feasibility study was done on a shoestring, thanks to an Awards for All grant, the launch of the report, likewise was done thanks to the generosity of the Monument Trust. Now we need to implement the report recommendations which include: more research, training of health professionals, strengthening of HIV positive women”s networks. This can not happen with one off small grants. It needs sustained strategic funding.
And please I do not want to hear: we are in an economic crisis the money is not there. There is a lot of wealth in the world we live in. Just remember a Robin Hood tax could rise $350 billions in the US in one year alone.
Here is a picture of me and my mum Susanna Meschini (1934-1986) , she was an extraordinary woman, unfortunately hunted by depression and weighted down by patriarchal Italian society of the times she lived in: even worst than now. When I was a child she took me to marches to fight for the rights to abortion and divorce. She had a difficult and sad life. But today 47 years ago she gave me an opportunity to be alive on this planet. I am trying to honour it.