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Twenty Years, Many Reasons


Positive Women’s Network (referred to by many as PWN) hit twenty years in 2011. We started out with an answering machine at a women’s health clinic, and now provide support to women with HIV all over BC. We are a national voice on support services and health promotion for women and the communities that support them in health and in life.

What makes an organization grow and thrive for twenty-plus years? We wanted to know ourselves.

We worked with researcher Tamara Landry through the Universities Without Walls program to explore the answers, and she spoke with those who would know: women with HIV, service providers and doctors who often refer women to PWN, funders, and consultants.

We wanted answers to these fundamental questions:

  • What makes Positive Women’s Network succeed?
  • Is a women-only organization important?

Here’s a sampling of what people had to say. Read the whole article in our newsletter.

What Makes Positive Women’s Network Succeed?

Meeting other women with HIV: “I’ve met women who I can talk to about HIV–this is the unique connection, but we also talk about lots of other things- challenges of living with a chronic illness, current issues in HIV, developments, treatments. [It’s] good to have poz women friends and talk about how it’s impacted our lives.”  (Member)

A woman struggling with distressing body changes said, “I wanted to hide away from the world, but then another woman came to the support group and had the same thing, and I realized I wasn’t alone.”

The support women get from each other in dealing with the long term effects of HIV is important. One member pointed out, “The news out there is that it’s a chronic manageable disease… but it’s not.…”

Receiving non-judgmental support: “I’ve always been able to come here, whether I’m strong or not, healthy or not.  Nobody looks at you any differently—that’s huge and really important. A lot of people tend to show judgments, but PWN doesn’t.” (Member)

Participating in programs that enhance well-being: “At at a retreat everyone “can enjoy life instead of looking at [HIV] like a death sentence.” (Member)

Working with supportive and knowledgeable staff: “The staff is good with their boundaries, good with support, good at everything they do. They know when you’re at your weakest and at your best, and empower you at both ends.” (Member)

“PWN staff knows everything there is to know about HIV and women’s issues, and if they didn’t know they would find out for you.” (Member)

Is a Women-Only Organization Important?

Women need a dedicated environment: A founding member spoke about starting PWN:  “Fundamentally, HIV wasn’t being addressed by the major AIDS organizations. Gay men led the way in advocacy and education, but there was such significant absence of women and visibility and the idea that women can get it and how they get it and why they get it.”

“The focus was women and children, multiple members of families who were infected. It was different from many of the men.” (Founding member)

Women’s needs are still different from men’s: “There are so many configurations on how it came to be in the family, and the fear- he’s going to leave me, what’s going to happen to my children?”  (Social worker)

“Violence against women is a huge issue and for that reason alone, we need women’s HIV services.”  (Social Worker)

“I know there’s a lot of safety issues of women vs. men… the needs are different, and there needs to be separate organizations.” (Member)

“PWN has been such a lifeline for women.”(Member)

“PWN has the most beautiful women in the world. We’re all one, we all love each other, we all laugh with each other, we don’t agree sometimes but we care for each other.” (Member)