Public health strategies aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, including physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and self-isolation, impact all of us, and in particular, the marginalized communities that we work with. As we continue to work with community stakeholders to integrate these strategies, it is important to also integrate strategies that address the existing social determinants of health that impact women.
ACCKWA’s Women’s Community Development program is a community-based response to HIV among women that takes into account the structural and societal factors that increase women’s risk factors for HIV. This program is a part of a collaborative initiative, called the Women & HIV/AIDS Initiative (WHAI), funded by the AIDS Bureau of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.
The overall goals of WHAI are to:
Reduce HIV transmission among women (including trans and cis women).
Enhance local community capacity to address HIV/AIDS.
Build safe environments to support women and their HIV/AIDS-related needs.
Ultimately, WHAI’s objective is to strengthen the capacity of communities to support women living with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS. We achieve this through:
Raising awareness and informing local community organizations and groups that serve women about HIV/AIDS and the need for women’s HIV-related services.
Working with local community organizations and groups to promote the integration of HIV/AIDS into their current programs, services, and procedures.
Working with staff at community organizations to build their knowledge and capacity to respond to women’s HIV-related needs.
Values & Approach
In Ontario, women’s vulnerability to HIV transmission is linked to the social determinants of health (social and economic factors that impact health) and individual lived experience. WHAI acknowledges and works from the strength, experience and knowledge of communities of women. Women’s vulnerability to HIV is closely linked to social inequity and oppression. These include gender discrimination, the disproportionate levels of violence that is faced by women and to the lack of access to appropriate services and information.
Additionally and significantly, as a result of the lasting impact of factors such as racism, colonialism and transphobia, women belonging to racialized communities, Indigenous women and trans women may face even higher levels of systemic and personal discrimination. These factors further increase vulnerability to HIV.
An important access point for women’s HIV prevention messages, information, and interventions is the local community agencies that serve women. WHAI is modeled on a community development framework and works with local community agencies where local women already seek services. WHAI develops networks of partners and agencies that collaborate to meet the diverse needs of women.
WHAI therefore brings HIV awareness and responses into the ‘mainstream’ of women-serving organizations in the region. This allows for flexible, specific and adaptive responses depending on the particular needs of the region and among communities of women living with or affected by HIV.
We provide workshops relating to issues affecting women as they relate to HIV. Workshops can be tailored to the needs of your group.
Education for service providers
Community organizations are an integral part of Ontario’s response to HIV, particularly amongst women living with HIV or facing systemic risk for HIV acquisition. By creating “welcoming spaces,” community organizations have the capacity to build strong, inclusive communities that conquer stigma and discrimination. These are spaces where women feel valued for their experience and expertise without facing judgement, and where women actively participate in creating systemic social change.
ACCKWA’s Women’s Community Development program offers a number of workshop opportunities for service providers which speak to the factors impacting women living with HIV or women facing systemic risk for HIV transmission, and creating welcoming spaces for women. Workshop topics include but are not limited to:
Women and HIV in Ontario (HIV basics)
Pregnancy and Parenting with HIV
Women and Harm Reduction
Women, HIV, and Gender-Based Violence
PrEP and Women
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a drug that HIV-negative people can take to prevent HIV infection. The medication is taken before coming into contact with HIV to prevent HIV from establishing infection inside the body. Research has shown PrEP to be over 90% effective when taken consistently and correctly.
PrEP is most effective for women when taken every day. When starting PrEP, it needs to be taken for a minimum of 20 days to protect against HIV transmission in vaginal tissue and 7 days in rectal tissue. This means it takes longer to be effective for vaginal sex than anal sex. PrEP does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancy. Using PrEP and condoms together offers even greater protection from HIV as well as STIs and pregnancy.
PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication course to help prevent the transmission of HIV in an HIV-negative person who may have been recently exposed to the virus. For PEP to work, it needs to be started as soon as possible even though it can be given up to 72 hours after exposure. Studies show that PEP can be up to 80% effective at preventing HIV transmission if taken as prescribed. PEP does not provide protection against pregnancy or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). PEP is an emergency prevention method. Condoms, harm reduction supplies, and other HIV prevention tools are still important to use. A prescription is needed to take PEP. Because it’s important to start PEP as soon as possible, most people go to their local emergency room to get one.