National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

March 10th marked the National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Unfortunately, we heard few stories about it on the news, saw few government officials speaking about it to their constituents and had few organizations publicly recommit to the fight.   

Yet in the midst of this silence, the epidemic continues to disproportionately affect women and girls in the United States, particularly in the Black community. Recent statistics from the [pdf] Kaiser Family Foundation shows that women of color represent the majority of women living with the disease and newly infected. We account for two-thirds (64 percent) of all estimated new HIV infections, but only account for 13 percent of the female population. One in 32 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime, compared to only one in 526 white women.

We know that the risk of contracting HIV is greater in Black communities because of the higher percentage of persons already infected. And we know that using protection and staying on treatment, if you are HIV positive, significantly reduces your risk of spreading the infection. We know that getting tested is the first step in prevention. So why aren’t we, as a community, taking the steps needed to protect ourselves?

Perhaps it’s exactly because of this silence. For too long, the Black community has remained quiet on HIV and its affect. Stigma is still very real and talking about the taboos of sex and drug use is still a topic we avoid.

The NAACP remains in this fight to make a difference. We are taking the manual, “The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative,” and using it to help educate and train faith leaders about ways to address this topic within their congregations. As we reframe HIV as a social justice issue, we can talk from a position of comfort and strength. We can use the power of the church in Black communities to fight the HIV epidemic.

We need to challenge this silence and stigma. If we want to turn the tide on the epidemic, we must break the silence and talk about how we can protect ourselves and our community.