Introduction to the Women’s Networking Zone

Building directly upon more than a decade of collaborative organizing around women and HIV at International AIDS Conferences, the Women’s Networking Zone (WNZ) is a community built forum within the International AIDS Conference and parallel to other global fora that is open to the public – and a place where community members, advocates, researchers, service providers, and decision-makers can meet, share, and learn together.

We view the WNZ as an inviting and inclusive forum for bringing together, local, regional, and global perspectives, as well as for bridging the gender, human rights, HIV, and sexual and reproductive health and rights communities. Our experience in convening Women’s Networking Zones, as well as similar initiatives at prior International AIDS Conferences, has taught us how valuable a space for dialogue, skills exchange, strategizing, and networking the WNZ can be. 

We are developing the WNZ at AIDS 2012 through global and local consultations to identify emerging issues at the intersection of women’s rights and HIV and to promote information sharing, dialogue, and exchange of experiences, skills, and knowledge amongst diverse stakeholders.

ATHENA’s approach to developing the WNZ at International Fora

Core principles for our work include:

§  Partnering with local organizations and initiatives

§  Partnering with HIV-positive women’s groups

§  Advancing human rights

§  Bridging the gender, human rights, sexual and reproductive health, and HIV communities

§  Addressing neglected or contentious human rights issues

§  Linking the global with the local

§  Linking research, policy, advocacy, and practice

§  Developing and supporting the leadership capacity of women and girls, especially those living with HIV

§  Enabling individuals and organizations to be agents of change

At the core of our approach—and what we believe to be the most effective way to generate sustainable outcomes—is a commitment to placing extraordinary HIV positive women and grassroots leaders from around the world at the center.  By building bridges across the gender, human rights, sexual and reproductive health, and HIV communities, we have shaped alliances that have shifted the terms of debates, brought forward critically overlooked issues, and catapulted new voices into global processes.

Our rationale for organizing around International AIDS Conferences  and other global fora is that these events provide a forum where diverse sectors of the global response to AIDS gather, media attention on AIDS is heightened, and a showcase opportunity is created to raise the visibility of local and regional priorities for women in the context of HIV and AIDS.  

A shared history of organizing at International AIDS Conferences

The Women’s Caucus of the International AIDS Society (IAWC) and the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) built the foundation for the work we will carry forward to the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. At the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2000, HIV-positive women leaders, advocates, and public health researchers identified the need for an independent forum where women from the local Durban community could engage with delegates attending the conference and where issues that were not part of the official conference proceedings could be raised. This need drove the creation of Women at Durban, a community satellite conference in which 300 South African women from Kwa-Zulu Natal and other provinces participated in workshops, panel discussions, and strategizing sessions. As a joint initiative of the IAWC and ICW with local partners, Women at Durban was highly successful in enabling greater communication between community actors and conference participants and in generally opening up a space for information exchange, knowledge transfer, and skills-building, in addition to critical dialogue on politically challenging topics at the time, such as access to treatment.

Women at Barcelona/Mujeres Adelante was designed to build from and expand the model of Women at Durban – to bring the voices of those most affected by the HIV and AIDS epidemics into the spheres where critical information is exchanged, networks are established, and policy and research agendas are formulated. Many of the primary organizers from Women at Durban came together to work toward the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain. This group, led by the IAWC and ICW, fostered the creation of Women at Barcelona as an organizing umbrella within the conference and Mujeres Adelante as an independent, parallel forum for local community members. Both initiatives were undertaken in partnership with Creación Positiva, a local HIV-positive women’s support organization in Barcelona. 

The Thai grassroots woman leader sponsored by and participating in Women at Barcelona, Rung, went on to co-found the Thai Women and AIDS Task Force (TWAT) and to lead the formation of global-local partnerships under the auspices of Women at Bangkok in the inaugural Global Village of the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

For the XVI International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2006) in Toronto, ATHENA worked in partnership with ICW and the Canadian groups Voices of Positive Women and the Coalition for a Blueprint for Action on Women and Girls and HIV. In an effort to continue the tradition and replicate the models of Women at Durban, Mujeres Adelante/Women at Barcelona, and Women at Bangkok, we convened the inaugural Women’s Networking Zone in the Global Village. The strong community-driven program provided six days of skills-building workshops, strategy sessions, and presentations.  The venue provided a space for Canadian priorities to be shared and solutions to be debated, and for community-based women leaders to bring their knowledge, questions, and success stories to the discussion.

ICW and ATHENA carried forward this model of global-local partnerships to contribute to the historic July 2007 International Women’s Summit, “Women’s Leadership Making a Difference on HIV and AIDS,” in Nairobi, Kenya. We co-convened a Women’s Networking Zone in the Sokoni, parallel to the Summit. 

For Mexico City in 2008, Mexicanas Positivas, ICW Latina, ICW Global, ATHENA, Colectivo Sol, and Balance Promoción para el Desarrollo y Juventud partnered to form “The Alliance for Gender Justice at AIDS 2008.”  The Alliance successfully convened another Women’s Networking Zone and a large women’s march through the streets of Mexico City to strengthen national, regional, and global understandings and alliances around women’s rights, gender, and HIV and to heighten the visibility and leadership of women living with, and affected by, HIV and AIDS, particularly in Latin America. 

For Vienna in 2010, AIDS Hilfe Wien, PULSHIV, GSSG, Salamander Trust, ICW, and ATHENA brought together a group of women’s rights advocates from across Europe and Central Asia in Vienna in late October 2009 for a three-day consultation, hosted by AIDS Hilfe Wien, to map priorities, define a shared agenda, and establish the framework for the Women’s Networking Zone at AIDS2010. This landmark meeting of 30 women activists from across the region also built the foundation for a sustained network for positive women in the region – and these positive women from across Europe and Central Asia will continue to be our key language links to reflect different issues, such as women who are asylum seekers, women who are economic migrants, and women who currently or formerly use injecting drugs.

We look forward to carrying on this tradition and building upon the momentum of the past decade to continue to encourage collaboration amongst the global community of advocates for women’s rights and gender equality in the response to HIV and AIDS.