The Personal Is Political: National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
March 7, 2014
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a formidable health threat to women in the United States, particularly young women and women of color. As Executive Director of a women-serving organization founded eighteen years ago in memory of Christie Milton-Torres, the first woman to unabashedly share her life and struggles of living with HIV in San Diego, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) plays a critical role in bringing much needed attention to the impact HIV has on women and girls. I've had the honor to serve as Executive Director of Christie's Place for the past twelve years and sadly the struggle to have women count -- to ensure that they have the resources and care they need to survive -- has not lessened. As an activist for the past 16 years, this day represents much more than raising awareness. It represents a synergy of efforts to offer support, encourage discussion, teach prevention and the importance of getting tested, as well as how to live with and manage HIV.
Over the past year it seems to me that the national discourse is minimizing the impact of the epidemic amongst women. It is my hope that NWGHAAD will reinforce that there is an ongoing need to address HIV/AIDS among women and girls domestically. The theme, "Share Knowledge -- Take Action", is important now more than ever. We need to raise the collective consciousness that HIV affects women and girls in complex ways along the care continuum and take action to ensure their needs are adequately addressed.
Last summer Christie's Place joined the AIDS United Public Policy Committee (PPC). Like many of my sister organizations, we don't have a budget for advocacy work. A colleague, Doug Wirth, was visiting our agency and when I shared that as much as I would like to join the PPC, membership dues weren't in our budget. Without blinking, he took out his checkbook and gave Christie's Place a donation to sponsor our membership. He shared in my belief that it was important for a women-centered community based organization to be involved because we would offer a unique perspective. I was honored and humbled, and after I wiped the tears from eyes I joined that afternoon. It's important for organizations like Christie's Place to be at that table because we provide a grassroots and grasstop perspective about how policy impacts organizations and women we serve on the ground. Being part of the PPC emphasizes the importance of solidarity -- not just in sisterhood but with our brothers who are in this struggle with us and for us.
The role of policy is vital in our local response to serving women. It is a bidirectional process where we lift up the lived experiences of women as well as advocate at the national level for policy, funding and services that fully address their needs. Social determinants, gender inequalities along with the pervasive intersections of violence and trauma all fuel women's health disparities. Violence and trauma are deeply interwoven in women's lives. In order to "get to zero" our public health, healthcare and social service systems need to be trauma-informed and trauma-responsive. Christie's Place and others across this country have been working to this end over the past year. The White House Interagency Federal Working Group Report on the Intersections of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-Related Health Disparities is a much needed first step in addressing the need for a coordinated, integrated and holistic approach to caring for women and girls within this context.
As a woman, the personal is political. Stigma, shame and fear fuel this epidemic. This past year has been one of great reflection. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, violence and trauma. I have lived in silence with this stigma for most of my life. NWGHAAD is a call to action, so how can I expect women to share their status to combat stigma, to share their resilience in surviving trauma to inspire hopefulness, to turn the tide on AIDS by speaking out when I have concealed my own lived experiences crippled by shame and fear? I've been a hypocrite, but that ends today. In honor of NWGHAAD, I lift my cone of silence in solidarity and to speak truth to power.
Liz Brosnan is the executive director of Christie's Place.
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