Personal Bill of Rights

I have the right to....

by Heather Arculeo

20151213_214136_resized-B[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a woman, one of the first things we are raised being aware of is that we are special because we can do what no man can, bear children. When this ability is stripped away from us, we no longer feel whole or womanly. That’s why being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS may be demoralizing. Women not only may feel that they are no longer worthy of being loved, but also that they lack in some way because they can no longer give the one thing they were created to do. However, what HIV-positive women rarely hear or believe, is that we are perfectly capable. Capable of doing anything and everything that we were able to do before a diagnosis.

So this year I challenge all women living with HIV/AIDS to learn how to love themselves again. If each woman can begin to believe that they are worthy and deserve more than they are giving themselves, then each one of us can build a happier sense of self. The result from applying the following personal rights is that we can each begin to respect ourselves enough to be always conscious of our basic human rights.

I know that this is extremely difficult to do, trust me, I am still working on them, but we can get through this together. First, we need to know what our personal rights are. You can create this yourself, or you can use the one I use provided below, which was created by professionals in the psychology field. I am not going to cover all of these at once, but I want you to see what you will be facing ahead of time. We are going to take this journey one step at a time, together. I will tell you stories of other women struggling with these rights. I will tell you my struggles and achievements. And I look forward to hearing your battles and successes, too. So here goes, our personal bill of rights.


1. I have the right to ask for what I want.
2. I have the right to say no to requests or demands I can’t meet.
3. I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative.
4. I have the right to change my mind.
5. I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.
6. I have the right to follow my own standards.
7. I have the right to say no to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or it violates my values.
8. I have the right to determine my own priorities.
9. I have the right not to be responsible for others’ behavior, actions, feelings, or problems.
10. I have the right to expect honesty from others.
11. I have the right to be angry at someone I love.
12. I have the right to be uniquely myself.
13. I have the right to feel scared and say, “I’m scared.”
14. I have the right to say, “I don’t know.”
15. I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behavior.
16. I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings.
17. I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time.
18. I have the right to be playful and frivolous.
19. I have the right to be healthier than those around me.
20. I have the right to be in a non-abusive environment.
21. I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.
22. I have the right to change and grow.
23. I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.
24. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
25. I have the right to be happy.

Now take a good look at these, read them, let them soak in, and think about which ones resonate with you the most. Which ones are you supposedly failing at and why? What ones do you feel comfortable with or successful at, and how did you overcome them? What are the barriers you have, keeping you from letting yourself have these rights? Now, tell me at [email protected]. I want to share your stories and successes with other women. I want us to go through this together.


Heather Arculeo, a positive woman since 2007, works to educate, advocate, and empower others to make a change because “change is possible even if the transformation seems impossible.” She wants to continue to make a difference in the HIV community because she is not only a peer, a mother, a sister, a wife, an aunt, and a daughter, but also an example to other women living with HIV.