Reflections on Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

We have all heard the facts about HIV and AIDS. The statistics are broken down by race, gender, age, nation, and every conceivable data driven segmentation.

-Epidemiological data tells us that over 35 million people are living with HIV worldwide and approximately 18 million, over half, are women.

-HIV is the world’s leading infectious killer.

-An estimated 39 million people have died since the first cases were reported in 1981.

-More than 1.5 million people died of AIDS-related causes in 2013.

These are the commonly cited facts we are all too familiar with. And they represent nothing less then a human tragedy of cataclysmic proportions. But numbers and statistics cannot fully represent what this means for the everyday lived experiences of individuals, families and communities.

Women are often the primary caregivers for their families; the custodians for the health of their children, partners, aging parents and extended families. Their own health priorities often fade into the background, even if they are living with HIV. This means women who are living with the virus are often juggling earning a living, family care-giving, and managing their own life-saving health regimen.

Too often, they must accomplish all this while being careful not to disclose their HIV status for fear of violence or harassment that could affect the quality of life for themselves or their family, even being at personal risk of death.

Women’s stories tell us it is about more than just statistics. Statistics have a margin of error—a margin that often negatively affects those who live on the margins of social, economic, and political injustice; the vast majority of whom are women and children.

How many of us know that AIDS related illnesses are the leading cause of death among women of child bearing age globally? We have conquered mother to child transmission, but women are still dying.

Every minute one young woman becomes HIV-positive, with young women aged 15-24 in sub-Saharan Africa are twice as likely to be living with HIV than young men. Black women are 16 times more likely than white women to acquire HIV.

This must change!! In too many rooms, at too many tables, women who are fighting these health disparities and advocating for health equity are asked, “What do women want?” as if these facts do not exist and women’s lives and issues are secondary to that of men.

It is not a complicated answer for women and those who love them. It is embodied in the WORLD mission.

We envision a world where women, girls, and families affected by HIV and AIDS have the tools, support and knowledge to live healthy and productive lives with dignity. Our vision is rooted in a commitment to human rights and wellness with the understanding that this includes freedom from violence; access to housing; quality healthcare; food security; physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing; education and economic justice.

Nothing more, nothing less.

In sisterhood and solidarity,

Cynthia Carey-Grant, Executive Director



Following are WAGHAAD reflections from WORLD staff and members of the community: 

“While most people know that March is Women’s History Month, many people do not know about the many important holidays recognizing women that make up Women’s History Month. Two days that WORLD wants to acknowledge are International Women’s Day (March 8th) and National Women and Girls’ HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March 10th). These two important days ring especially important to WORLD as one acknowledges the rights of women as important and contributing members of society while the other recognizes the importance of supporting women’s health and well-being. We live in a time where funding for HIV education and prevention dwindles, and the number of women living with HIV rises. WORLD is calling on women and those who love women to do two things. First of all, update your status! Today is an excellent day to show your girlfriend, daughter, sister, or friend some love by going together to get an HIV test and to talk with each other or with your provider about safer sex options. Secondly, today and everyday, demand that your representatives support funding for HIV education, prevention, and treatment services. While treatment as prevention is an excellent tool in the fight against HIV, it is shameful to deplete funding from other tools at our disposal! Our communities deserve the educational support to prevent HIV and all health disparities! In recognition of National Women and Girl’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, International Women’s Day, and every day that women act as caregivers, leaders, movers and shakers, WORLD honors all women and girls living with HIV and affected by HIV. And today especially, WORLD honors all girls who deserve the education and support to help us get to an AIDS Free Generation.” – Ashley Fairburn, Outreach and Linkage Specialist

“Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day should be every day. Because every day we laugh, we communicate, we share, we love, we are girls and we are women…”
-Nikia Harris, Outreach and Linkage Specialist

“National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day is not only an opportunity for us to recognize the extraordinary strength, perseverance, and vibrancy of all women who are living with the virus, but also an occasion for us to share our stories. If we want to curb and eventually end the transmission of HIV among women, we have to be able to have conversations about what sex and prevention look like in the real world. In a month where so much focus is placed on how far women have advanced throughout history, I believe it is vitally important to share our knowledge about our bodies and ourselves so that from granny to grandchild, we are empowered to take charge of our own health!”
-Dietz, Outreach and Linkage Specialist

“Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day this year is very important to me because we’re including young girls ages 12-24 at our event and I think that’s the age group when it really matters about HIV and STDs. I feel if I had somebody to talk me around this age, it could have made a difference in my life. I think Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day should be more then once a year.”
-Felecia Greenly, Peer Advocate

“Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is the perfect opportunity to take a look at where we are with the HIV/AIDS epidemic among women and where we want to be. Through a commitment to keeping an open dialogue about HIV/AIDS, we can reduce stigma and ensure that all women and girls have access to information about HIV/AIDS and know how to protect themselves.”
-Stephanie Cornwell, Program Services Director

“As I recall, there were specific subjects and conversations that were taboo in our Catholic Black home between my mother and I. We did not discuss molestation, trauma, same sex relationships or STDs. It wasn’t until my late 30s after Dad had died, my girlfriend and I moved in together and Magic Johnson disclosed his status that a real dialogue between my mother and I began.
It was amazing to hear how much my mom didn’t know about her own body. I’m not waiting more than half my life to start the conversation with my daughters.”

“When I was 12, I found Banana Flavored candies in my Grandmother’s purse. When I was 22 my Grandmother finally shared her Banana Pudding Recipe. When I was 32 I found a Banana Flavored condom in my Grandmother’s top drawer.
I don’t like Bananas anymore.”

“On this special day, I reflect on the impact of HIV/AIDS in the lives of women around the world. With so many tools to prevent HIV transmission and to control the virus replication in HIV+ women today, there are more reasons to be optimistic that we will conquer this virus and end the global pandemic.

But there is no room for complacency. Women and men of color remain at disproportionate risk for contracting HIV. During the last recession, funding for HIV prevention and education was all but eliminated. In place of education we are left with the bio-medical prevention model, which relies on testing and linking HIV+ individuals to high quality healthcare. The obvious weakness of this model is that it leaves the people most at risk for contracting HIV with little or no education about how the disease is transmitted or how to protect oneself.

No one today would dispute the unethical and dangerous ‘science’ practices used to experiment on African Americans in Tuskegee. Why are we left with a nearly non-existent public education effort when people of color overwhelmingly constitute the number of new cases of HIV infection?

Today, in all of the highest risk categories-men who have sex with men, women and youth-people of color are disproportionately impacted by HIV. Yet no public education campaigns are directed to these populations. None.

The outcome of this continued neglect is quite foreseeable. Entire populations will become dependent upon pharmaceutical and insurance companies for their health.

In the early days of the epidemic, ACT-UP declared that “Silence equals death.” Now we are in danger that continued silence will equal perpetual dependence. Let’s find our voices again and raise them to demand that funding for public education about HIV prevention is restored in our communities.”
-Kabir Hypolite, WORLD Board Member