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Greater Empowerment for Black Women

Opinion Editorial by CEO and Founder Phill Wilson

March 3, 2010

Greater Empowerment for Black Women March is Women's History Month, and next Wednesday, March 10, is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a campaign that promotes greater awareness for women of how to keep from becoming infected with HIV.

This exercise is particularly important for Black women because while most Black people know the facts about HIV, many times we don't act as if we know.

Although Black women account for 12 percent of women in the United States, they make up almost 70 percent of women believed to have AIDS. The AIDS rate among Black women is nearly 22 times higher than that of their White peers. In 2006, AIDS was the third leading cause of death among African American women ages 25 to 44. Tragically, many of the young women who die became infected as teenagers.

But just as Harriet Tubman, one of the most celebrated women in Black history, transcended her circumstances by first escaping slavery and then creating a way for others to save themselves, every Black female can both protect herself from HIV and help create an environment in which other Black people can protect themselves. But how can Black women do this in a world where they shoulder disproportionate family responsibilities, are often poorer and in worse health than other women, and are frequently abused and disrespected? And how can our community help them?

One of the most important decisions that a Black woman can make is to find out her HIV status. Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, says it best: "If you love yourself, you will insist upon your partner getting tested, and you will insist that you get tested as well." Even today, one in five Americans living with HIV don't even know that they have it. But there is no longer any excuse for this state of affairs. HIV testing is readily available -- often at no or reduced cost -- at many doctors' offices, public health centers, community outreach events and churches. And if you're scared of blood or needles, you can ask for an oral test, in which a swab is merely run across the inside of your cheek. Generally results are available in less than an hour. But no matter which method you select or where you decide to get it done, every sexually active Black woman needs to get HIV-tested at least once a year -- and more often if you have more than one partner, are concerned about your partner's sexual faithfulness, or are uncertain of his or her status.

Black women can also empower themselves by taking greater control of their lives -- sexual or otherwise. Most women have the power to decide whether or not they will be intimate with someone and what the intimacy will entail. But there are a tremendous number of factors -- from not having enough money, to feeling a low sense of self-worth, to worrying about violence in their relationships -- that keep Black women from expressing this power in every aspect of their lives, including sexual decision making. Our community needs to support Black women as they make constructive choices about life -- about education, childbearing, their future and, of course, their sexual well-being. We also need to change our cultural norms to celebrate a woman loving herself and having enough self-esteem to carry condoms and insist on using them.

On top of that, it's essential that Black women start taking better care of themselves -- mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Between caring for their children, handling their job, looking after their elders and keeping up with their partner's well-being, many Black women place self-care last on their list of concerns. We need to change that aspect of Black American culture.

It's time that we allow Black women to place themselves at the top of the priority list so that they can make healthier food choices for themselves and everyone else, find time to exercise, obtain their degrees or upgrade their skills, and engage in other replenishing activities. Because the truth is, when a Black woman becomes ill or her well-being otherwise suffers, the community of people depending on her struggles as well. For women who are already HIV positive, taking care of yourself includes seeking medical treatment and adhering to the drug and self-care regimen that your doctor prescribes. Black women can save themselves because Black women are greater than AIDS.

Phill Wilson is president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute.

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This article was provided by The Black AIDS Institute. Visit Black AIDS Institute's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

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