Introduction to our International Women’s Day newsletter

Happy International Women’s Day.  Sophia Forum has traditionally always tried to have a Newsletter out on or in time for International Women’s Day and this year is no exception. There will be celebrations across the world for International Women’s Day and at Sophia we wish to celebrate and acknowledge the great achievements of all women but particularly women living with HIV and those that support them.

We are delighted that we have something of a bumper issue with contributions from women living with HIV across the UK from Edinburgh, the North West and London. In addition there are contributions from African women exiled in Canada and Norway making this edition truly International. Paula Evenden, who has just left Sussex beacon also writes about her time there managing the Women and Families service and what they learned from the unique joint work that was developed in partnership with the local domestic abuse service.

Juno, one of our contributors, has a resolution to be bolder in 2016, perhaps we should all be a little bolder this year and maybe the current environment demands it.  Many services continue to face cuts to their funding and Sophia Forum has added its voice and support to the recently launched campaign against the cuts to HIV services Stop HIV Cuts. Sophia Forum is the only organisation in the UK focused on the protection and promotion of the good health of women who are living with HIV. We experience first-hand the impact of economic cuts and government austerity on vital work to promote the rights and wellbeing of women living with HIV and the services that women rely on. HIV support services are vital to ensure that women, and men, living with HIV can access information, support and resources to stay healthy and happy. Cuts to these services are severing a lifeline for people with HIV. One of our priorities is to improve awareness and services for women living with HIV who also experience domestic and other forms of violence. Violence and HIV are linked – many women living with HIV experience violence, yet our research has found that HIV and domestic violence services are ill-equipped to provide the support women need. In 2012 we published a scoping study that recommended further research and the development of good practice guidelines to better support women living with HIV who experience violence. Our efforts to raise funds to support this work have not been successful, as funding across the HIV sector has dried up. Instead of improvement, therefore, we have seen cuts to services, both for people living with HIV and for survivors of violence. A scarcity of funds undercuts efforts to build an environment whereby women living with HIV can realise their rights to health and to live free of violence. We have huge concerns about the current cuts to organisations that offer support, help and accommodation to women who are fleeing violence that have led to refuges closing and specialist support services vanishing.

Everyone living with HIV must have access to support services. For women, these services must also expand and improve to ensure that all their needs are met, and to start addressing the huge impact of domestic and other forms of violence on women living with HIV. This International Women’s Day we need to be doing more, not less. We cannot balance the books on the backs of women living with HIV.

Lynda Shentall, Sophia Forum Co-Chair