A Sisterhood of Leaders

By Rob Banaszak on October 24, 2012 in Policy/Advocacy

by Gina Brown, AIDS United Regional Organizer

On Friday, October 19, 2912, I flew to Atlanta, GA. to participate in SisterLove’s 2020 Leading Women’s Society Awards and Induction ceremonies. 2020 Leading Women’s Society (LWS) is a ten-year strategic effort to engage the leadership of long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS in creating and implementing an agenda that is based on the hindsight and foresight of 2,020 HIV-positive women in 20 countries. 2020 leaders are trained, mentored and compensated to address key barriers and stresses that prevent or inhibit women from actively engaging in managing their sexual and reproductive health, advocating for their human rights, and generating income that secures their independence and economic empowerment.

In 2009, the first inductees were chosen for the 2020 LWS awards. The 2020 Leading Women’s Society now stands proud with 40 dynamic women actively participating in this leadership program with plans to expand the initiative to increase the number of HIV-positive women leaders in North America, Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and the Caribbean.

The evening started off with the 2020 women being picked up IN STYLE and chauffeured to the event by a limo company!  Greeting us when we arrived was a group of well-dressed men who escorted us one by one onto the red carpet. Inside we were met by a photographer, and we stopped to give quick interviews before moving on to dinner and the awards. We all felt like celebrities! The awards were for the women with 20 or more years. There were a few young women who had been perinatally infected receiving awards, and all I could think was, “they have never known a life without the HIV virus,” I felt so many emotions sitting in that dining room; sadness at the women who were no longer with us, awe at the fact I was in the room, pride at the work the women in that room were doing, humbled by the fact that someone thought I was deserving of this honor, and I felt comfort, because I now have an even larger network of women I can lean on for support. Friday night was open to family, friends and allies but Saturday’s event would be private.

On Saturday we had empowerment sessions from 8:30 am- 4:30 pm. The group discussed everything from Ending the Epidemic and Entrepreneurship, to Professional Behavior and Keeping Your Story Relevant. I videotaped a message that will be displayed on SisterLove’s Facebook page. That night at the induction ceremony, I was called to the front of the room, a purple stole was placed around my neck, and I was also given a 2020 LWS pin. That’s when it hit me, I am now an Inductee of 2020 Leading Women’s Society!

This is an honor bestowed upon HIV-positive women either for either living as a positive woman for 20 years, and/or working in HIV-related community service. I was honored for my community service, both on a local and national level. In a year and a half I’ll be eligible to receive a 20-year award. At the induction ceremony I stood with women from around the United States — strong, committed leaders — who are now a part of a larger Sisterhood. I am both humbled and a little shocked at this great honor. It’s sometimes hard for me to think of  what I’m doing as a great thing. I advocate because as a woman I know that often around HIV issues, we are the most silent and the most invisible people at the table (that’s when we’re invited to the table), I also know that there are many more women who would love to conduct advocacy around HIV/AIDS but due to the stigma associated with HIV, their voices remain silent. These are the woman I speak and fight for.

I am forever grateful for this honor and I’m already thinking of the woman I can nominate next year.

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