Silence Isn’t Golden:  A Call for Community Discussion about HIV/AIDS in Women

Let’s talk about sex. No, not the Salt ‘N’ Pepa hit from the 1990s. As a Black Community, especially black women, we need to have an honest discussion about what really happens behind our closed doors.

Two weeks ago, I turned twenty-five. While I am thankful to have lived for quarter of a century, it is sobering to know that 83.8 percent of women in my age group (25-34) attributed contracting HIV through heterosexual contact in 2008. It is even more disconcerting to note that Black/African American women had the highest percentage (87 percent) of HIV transmission through heterosexual contact .These statistics are staggering. It is time to ring the alarm. Our silence here is not golden.

Wednesday, March 10, 2011 marked the sixth annual National Women and Girl’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD). Coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health, the purpose of NWGHAAD is to draw attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic’s increasingly devastating impact on women, encourage HIV testing for, educate women and girls about prevention of HIV as well as discuss how to live with and manage HIV/AIDS. To commemorate NWGHAAD, the NAACP co-sponsored a film screening of “The Positive Ladies Soccer Club” and insightful panel discussion with The Women’s Collective and the National Council of Negro Women at the National Press Club.

As Health Chair of the Washington, DC Branch of the NAACP, I was proud to attend with a few of my fellow freedom fighters to highlight this important issue. Watching and discussing the film was truly inspiring. These HIV-Positive Women from Zimbabwe were fired up, ready to go, spoke truth to power and used unconventional methods to dismantle stigma. The film was a vivid reminder that women can have exceptional fortitude, unparalleled internal and external beauty, innovative ideas, a nurturing spirit and wisdom beyond their years. These are truths that transcend sub-cultural differences in the Black Diaspora and can universally apply to all women.

I was also inspired by the players’ commitment to supporting and being accountable their teammates both on and off the soccer field. These women depended on each other to stay adherent to medication as well as act as informal health educators to their family and friends. It is in that spirit that I encourage each of us to dispel myths and propagate facts about HIV prevention and treatment in our local communities.

Since I work in the HIV/AIDS field, my friends and family often come to me with questions about their reproductive health. Similarly as I informally educate my friends and family about reproductive health, each of us should feel compelled to do the same for the women in our lives. Every one of us is connected to a woman whose health and wellness needs promoting and protecting. I bet if I asked you to raise your hand if you have ever cared about a woman who is a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, beloved friend, or partner, everyone who reads this would have their hands up. Therefore, we have a vested interest in encouraging the women in our lives to:

• Know their status (Click here for testing sites)

• Learn how to properly use condoms

• Educate themselves about HIV/AIDS (Click here for HIV/AIDS Information)

• Feel empowered to use this information to protect themselves

• Take an active interest in their own health issues (which may include managing living with HIV)

Read President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy

We need to tell the women in our lives that each time she lies down without protection; she plays Russian roulette with her livelihood. HIV is preventable and treatable. Do your part to mitigate the HIV/AIDS’s impact in the Black Community. Let’s talk about sex.