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Positive Women Inc.

1990 –

This essay written by Jane Bruning was published online in Women together: a history of women's organisations in New Zealand in 2019.

The AIDS epidemic reached Aotearoa New Zealand in the early 1980s, initially affecting men who had sex with men. Towards the end of the 1980s, a small number of women were starting to be diagnosed. This was recognised by two social workers, Judith Ackroyd and Suzi Morrison, who worked for the Community AIDS Resource Team (CART) at Auckland Hospital. They noticed that support services at the time were focused on gay men, and were not particularly women-friendly. It was out of this understanding that Positive Women (as it was first known) was established in 1990.

The first meetings were organised by members of the CART team, who arranged for women to come together for peer support on a monthly basis. Over time, the women took on this role in a voluntary capacity while the CART team supported them in the background. It was a difficult time. The women living with HIV were often unwell, and many died in those early years, which is why the organisation still needed the support of the CART team.

Positive Women continued to work in this way for some years. The availability of HIV antiretroviral medications from 1996 drastically changed the outcome of an HIV diagnosis: people now had a chance to live. However, support was still critical, especially in a country with low HIV prevalence, which resulted in extreme isolation for those living with HIV as they feared being stigmatised and discriminated against. This was even more so for women, who were often also looking after and protecting family members.

As the number of women being diagnosed with HIV grew, it became apparent that Positive Women required more structure. Two co-ordinators were assigned on a voluntary basis, working with members of the CART team. This collaboration resulted in the first National HIV Women’s Retreat, held in 1998. Through some independent fundraising, the team managed to acquire enough funds to pay for 18 women living with HIV, from around New Zealand, to come to Auckland for a weekend for peer support, HIV education, and time out from their everyday lives. This was such a success that it became an annual event on the Positive Women calendar.

With the success of the first retreat, it was recognised that the organisation needed to expand its services, which would require more funding. To enable this and to give the organisation credibility, the group became an incorporated society, Positive Women Inc., in 2001.

In 2003, the two voluntary co-ordinators resigned. With the organisation about to collapse, the members rallied, and at a special annual general meeting in 2004, they agreed to employ a full-time national co-ordinator. This was made possible with the help of the Executive Director of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF), Rachel Le Mesurier, and the MAC AIDS Fund, which funded the first year’s salary. At this point CART withdrew and Positive Women Inc. became fully self-managed, under the leadership of its governance board and the national co-ordinator, Jane Bruning.

Positive Women poster
The poster for the 2009 HIV Stigma Campaign, the first in New Zealand to be focused on women.

From 2004, the organisation went from strength to strength. Continuing with its core support services, Positive Women Inc. extended its services to include producing resources specific to women and families affected by HIV. It also continued with HIV awareness campaigns, launching the first ever HIV Stigma Campaign in New Zealand to be focused on women in 2009. Four women living with HIV fronted the campaign to make New Zealanders question their assumptions about those living with the HIV virus. ‘Many people think HIV won’t touch them … we are saying the risk is a lot closer to home – our faces and our stories are not so different to many New Zealand women.’ [1]

Positive Women Inc. also offered free HIV rapid testing, and managed the Positive Speakers Bureau (PSB), which trained people living with HIV to speak publicly about their experience, in order to help educate communities and destigmatise HIV. In 2014, after three years of lobbying by the organisation and the YWCA as part of the International Paper Doll Campaign, Positive Women Inc. presented a petition to Parliament asking for female condoms to be made available in New Zealand. The petition was heard by the Health Select Committee, which made a recommendation to Pharmac to investigate further. [2] In 2016 Positive Women Inc. launched the first national campaign urging women to get tested for HIV. [3]

Helen Clark with members of Positive Women
At the opening of the Positive Women Inc. community house, Auckland, by Michele Sidibe (then director of UNAIDS) in 2012. From left: Judith Ackroyd, Rt Hon. Helen Clark, Jane Bruning, Michele Sidibe, Suzie Morrison.

In 2019, Positive Women Inc. had four members in its operations team, led by Jane Bruning. [4] It had become a proponent of the principles for the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV (GIPA), and Meaningful Involvement of People Living with HIV (MIPA). These are internationally recognised sets of principles which advocate for the empowerment of people living with HIV, and for them to be involved in the HIV response at all levels.

Jane Bruning [4]


[1] ‘Positive Women’, Stuff, 15 Dec. 2009,

[2] Su, R., ‘Female Condom FC2 “Approved for Sale” in New Zealand to Fight HIV’, International Business Times Australia, 4 Aug. 2014. Available from:
In September 2019, Pharmac had not yet decided whether to subsidise FC2.

[3] Positive Women Inc., ‘Positive Women Inc. Launches National Campaign Urging Women to Get Tested for HIV’, press release, Scoop, 11 March 2016,

[4] In 2017 the work of Bruning and Positive Women Inc. was recognised when she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. See

Unpublished sources

Bruning, J., ‘Stigma and women living with HIV: A co-operative inquiry’, unpublished research project report for Master of Social Practice, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, NZ, 2009. Available from

Published sources

Bennett, J., ‘New Zealand women living with HIV/AIDS: A feminist perspective’, Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, Vol. 23 No. 1, 2007, 4–16.

Bruning, J., Connor, H., & Napan, K., ‘HIV and AIDS policies globally: A New Zealand perspective’, in Allen, J. & Parrot, A. (eds), HIV/AIDS policies and their impact on women, Routledge Studies in Health and Social Welfare, Routledge, 2014

Connor, H., Bruning, J. & Napan, K., ‘Positive women: A community development response to supporting women and families living with HIV/AIDS in Aotearoa New Zealand’, Whanake: the Pacific Journal of Community Development, Vol. 2 No. 2, 2016, 14–23,

UNAIDS, Women out loud: how women living with HIV will help the world end AIDS [with New Zealand contribution by Positive Women Inc.], UNAIDS, 2012,

Further sources

Positive Women Inc. website: