Leadership and AIDS: Patricia Pérez

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Feature story

Leadership and AIDS: Patricia Pérez

08 April 2008

Since the early nineties Patricia Pérez has
raised her voice to speak out for and
advocate for the rights of women living
with or affected by HIV.

Leadership is the expression of a person whose aim is to transform something for the better and to develop this potential in others. Often leadership abilities are brought to the fore by certain crises in life enabling people to discover abilities that they didn’t know they had.

Activist Patricia Pérez is one such person. Since the early nineties she has raised her voice, along with other activists, to speak out for and advocate for the rights of women living with or affected by HIV.

Patricia Pérez was only 24 years old she found out she was HIV-positive. That was in 1986 and doctors told her that her life-expectancy would not be longer than two years. Today Pérez is the coordinator of the Latin American branch of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW), an organization of truly global reach which she helped to found.

Personal journey of discovery

Patricia was working as a gymnastics teacher in the city of her birth, Buenos Aires, Argentina at the time of her HIV diagnosis. After the shocking news she could only think one week at a time and couldn’t imagine a future life.

One day she decided to no longer dwell exclusively on her own situation and shifted her focus to others. She formed a volunteer group at the Muniz Hospital for people living with HIV that met weekly together to listen and support each other. Perez realized that all people living with HIV shared specific needs and experiences and that strength came from connecting together in networks.

Five years later she took part in a demonstration in London of 10,000 people living with HIV and realised that she was not alone and the power of a collective voice.

Early days of ICW

In 1992 at age 30, Patricia helped found
the International Community of Women
Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW).

In 1992 at age 30, Patricia helped found the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW). This milestone in the history women’s AIDS advocacy happened when she and a group of 30 HIV positive women from different countries were attending the 8th International Conference on AIDS held in Amsterdam that year. Inspired by the idea that by working together they could make a difference to the lives of all women living with HIV, they drew up a charter on improving the situation of women living with HIV.

Today ICW has 8,000 members in 57 countries and is the only international network led by and for of HIV positive women.

“While the epidemic continues to have a devastating impact on women, Pérez, and other positive leaders are vital voices against stigma and discrimination.  They have led the way in  advocating for prevention, treatment, care and support services for people living with HIV, including those specifically tailored to the needs of positive women,” said UNAIDS Senior Partnership Adviser, Kate Thomson.

Women and HIV

Perez continues today to advocate at regional and international levels for women’s rights and greater involvement of women in clinical trials and scientific research on drug efficacy and HIV progression. She regularly organizes symposia and conferences across Latin America and participates in international events.

Women comprise about half of all people living with HIV worldwide and in sub-Saharan Africa, where the epidemic is worst, they make up an estimated 57% of adults living with HIV, and three quarters of young people living with HIV on the continent are young women aged 15-24.