PWN has been continuing to provide basic education on HIV/AIDS, care, and support to those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Over the last several months, PWN provided training for:
• 30 women to be leaders capable of general HIV/AIDS counseling to other women
• 20 women to lead support groups for people infected/affected by HIV/AIDS
• 30 women to gain entrepreneurial skills such as catering, craft and jewelry production
• 100 women to gain access to information on antiretroviral therapy, its importance, and tools and resources to help them remain on regular treatment regimens
PWN has also been active with their advocacy and outreach activities. Since our last update, they have continued to mobilize their participants to engage in awareness campaigns. Impressively, they helped organize a march of about 1,500 women for the One in Nine Campaign, which advocated that the government take action to prevent violence against women and children. Outreach activities like these not only benefit the townships as a whole but gives the women involved a sense of empowerment and control in their own lives.
Throughout the last 3 months, they also conducted extensive door-to-door campaigns in various townships to raise awareness. The biggest campaign was on World AIDS Day, December 1st. In these door-to-door campaigns, members canvas their township to pass out condoms, brochures, and talk about the benefits of joining a support group, and encourage their neighbors to learn more about HIV/AIDS prevention.
The South African Departments of Health and Social Welfare have recognized PWN as an important partner due to its outstanding service delivery to women infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
PWN is also filling crucial holes created by the AIDS epidemic. They recently partnered with the South Africa Department of Home Affairs to enable access to identity cards and birth certificates for children whose mothers were PWN members and passed away before preparing these documents for their children. This identification is critical to the success of the child: orphaned children must have documents to receive grants to eat and to continue with schooling.
This past May, Positive Women’s Network (PWN) facilitated anti-retroviral(ARV) drug treatment training to 42 group members and coordinators from 4 support groups. In this training, support group members learned how ARV treatment works for women living with HIV. The training emphasized the importance of using ARVs when you are HIV positive and how otherwise the immune system would deteriorate.
The women who participated in this training will use this learning to help their door-to-door campaigns. Through door-to-door campaigns members are able to reach out to people within their communities. By introducing PWN, the members are able to talk about the benefits of joining a support group and encourage their neighbors to address HIV/AIDS stigma directly.
In addition to the formation of support groups, PWN also organizes community forums that are held every quarter with all support group members. They recently held such a forum.
The forums are a way for several support groups to come together to participate in a educational action or campaign for larger issues that affect their area. This provides an opportunity for support group members to become more active and share experiences with other support group members that PWN facilitates.
PWN has seen women who participate in their support groups and forums become more active in various campaigns to address local community issues. The latest campaign initiated by PWN is called the “777 campaign” and it seeks to bring awareness on violence against women. The “777 Campaign” was launched to commemorate the deaths of Sizakele Sigasa, PWN’s Outreach Coordinator, and her friend, Salome Masoa who were raped and murdered on July 7, 2007. Women participating in the support groups and forums are currently following up on two rape cases in the local courts, as a result of their participation in the “777 campaign”.
Not only are women receiving counseling through the support groups facilitated by PWN, but they are also exercising their self-confidence as they start to become more proactive in ways that can help the whole community and particularly women.
In October 2007, PWN reported details of their training program, where trainers carry out HIV/AIDS treatment literacy workshops. In the past two months, six newly trained trainers on HIV treatment literacy provided information and brought resources to their support groups. As a result, 60 women have benefited from the workshops led by these new trainers.
Since October, PWN has also facilitated counseling for over 100 women living with HIV/AIDS. These counseling sessions allow women to talk openly about their illness and identify ways to cope with depression and the stigma they face as a result of being HIV positive. This is critical, as women often have no one to turn to for support after being diagnosed as HIV positive.
Women’s depression is frequently compounded by poverty and a lack of access to resources, which PWN also works to address through workshops and skills development. In fact recent research* highlights the increasing evidence of a direct correlation between heightened suicide rates and a diagnosed HIV positive status. PWN is working to turn this around through counseling and support group programs.
* Suicidal Behaviour in South Africa by Lourens Schlebusch, 2005 University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Press.
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