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It's Time to Remove the Veil

November 15, 2010

For our World AIDS Day 2010 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- mostly those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.

Zina Age

Zina Age

In my 14 years as Founder/CEO of Aniz, Inc., it has not been uncommon to see a grandmother, mother and daughter, all HIV positive, in one or another of the multiple treatment programs offered by Aniz, Inc. In some cases, each of the women believed she was the only HIV-positive member of the family.

I have witnessed this experience everywhere from the small rural towns of Mississippi to our headquarters in metropolitan Atlanta. And each time the question is: "Why haven't these Women of Color disclosed their status?" Well often the answer is:

"You don't put your business all out in the streets."
"You don't air your family's dirty laundry."

Who hasn't been told these things at some point in his/her childhood? Our families have always requested that we respect their privacy, but in the African-American community our need for privacy has morphed into something more insidious, a "veil of secrecy." So instead of disclosing her status, we have women in our programs who say:

"I would rather die than someone find out I have HIV"

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And sadly, African-American women are dying. In the South, African-American women represent the vast majority of women who are HIV positive. According to the latest Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, 1 in 30 African-American women will be diagnosed with HIV in her lifetime. HIV/AIDS is the third leading cause of death for women between the ages of 35-44, and the fourth leading cause for women aged 25-34 and 45-54, surpassing diabetes, stroke and kidney disease. Yet, we are still afraid to talk about it.

Why? Depending upon how the women contracted the virus, society may view her in two very different lights: either the "victim," an object of pity; or the "villain," to be scorned, cast out, a "jezebel." She is the "victim" if she is a "Christian" women whose husband/boyfriend was philandering or worse, on the "down low." She is the villain if contracted the virus through IV drug use, prostitution or having multiple partners.

Be it victim or villain, either way the legacy of the "Strong Black Woman" or "Superwoman" is tarnished. Thus, her HIV status is unlikely to ever be disclosed and she will forever wear the veil of secrecy. Her status becomes something to be ashamed of, something to hide, or something to feel guilty about.

So starting with this year's World AIDS Day, as we highlight the issue of HIV/AIDS and discuss the plight of women internationally, we need to take a moment to look at what is happening in our own backyards. We need to start removing the veil of secrecy from African-American women. We need to examine the patriarchal structure that judges her for not having a man but victimizes her for the men she must choose from (drug users, incarcerated, "down low"). We need to examine interventions that say "use condoms" but don't address financial survival or domestic abuse. We need to examine the burden of being a Strong Black Woman without the educational or economic resources to support herself or her family. We need to be addressing that underlying the guilt, the shame, the "stigma" is often untreated addiction, abuse and depression.

Finally, we need to be ready to tell her she is a beautiful woman, that HIV can be treated and she can have a normal life, and that it is OK to take the veil off now.

Zina Age is the founder and CEO of Aniz, Inc., a community-based organization with branches in Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.


This article was provided by TheBody.com.

See Also
What Does HIV/AIDS Stigma Look Like in Your Life?
More on Stigma and HIV/AIDS


Reader Comments:

Comment by: black rose in da hood (Boston) Mon., Jan. 3, 2011 at 12:43 pm EST
I love the article and totally support and understand its intent.
Having said that; I implore you to resist using that broad brush when characterizing black men,"...but victimizes her for the men she must choose from (drug users, incarcerated,"downlow")." This statement has the unintended effect of maligning (though I realize that is not your intention). The message for 2011 is prevention and harm reduction. blessings
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Comment by: Sabrina (NorthCarolina) Thu., Dec. 16, 2010 at 2:31 pm EST
I agree so much with this article. The Stigma and ignorance is what is killimg are black women. The fact that there are so many men that are positive are not aware of their status, they are having unprotected sex and spreading the virus. EVERYONE needs to get tested!!!!! KNOW YOUR STATUS!!! I was 35 when I was diagnosed and thought I was going to die. I gave up on life put myself in positions in relationships with drug abusers, domestic violence,alcoholism and suicidal. But God kept me here and brought me through it all. I have seen my ex boyfriend that was with me when I was diagnosed ;who was negative find out that he had cancer and died October 8. I moved back home to NC in Feb 2009 to take care of my ailing father and he passed away September 4th. I wonder why I'm still here. But I realize that God is not through with me yet.Thank you for this article and I pray for the strength to go out and tell my story and help people.
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Comment by: JOHN K. (KENYA) Tue., Dec. 7, 2010 at 4:00 am EST
From your article you talked of black-American women.
I have been dealing with commercial sex women situated on the highway to earn a living through the
commercial drivers,but the poor women are infected
without or with their knowlege because of the prices
offered.eg without a condom the price is higher which many prefer.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Eradicate The Onslaught (Atlanta, GA.) Fri., Jan. 21, 2011 at 9:09 pm EST
This is the craziest thing I have ever read in any blog, forum, Ect.
SCARY!


Comment by: Rusti Miller-Hill (NYC) Wed., Dec. 1, 2010 at 9:33 am EST
You have hit the nail on the head.we hold on to teachings past down from generations to generations in spite of the pain we witness as the result of negative behaviors. someone has got to be willing to break the cycle and take a stand; sometimes standing alone to get others to see the light at the other end. Living with AIDS is not the end of the world but but the begining of a healthier life. you must continue to share your message of hope,strenght and courage.. Until we meet again stay strong and get Nessi on board....
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Comment by: Rohitha (Sri Lanka) Wed., Dec. 1, 2010 at 1:32 am EST
The worst thing is fear, prejudice and bigotry. The cure is awareness - https://creately.com/blog/diagrams/over-5000-people-die-from-aids-daily-you%E2%80%99re-responsible/
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Comment by: Dee M (Hamilton, ON, Canada) Mon., Nov. 29, 2010 at 1:14 pm EST
I am of African descent and find that this is also true with the African popullation in and outside Africa.

The problem though, is how the disclosure is received. Many people still have this stigma, and shun HIV +ve people, hence the reluctance to open up.
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Anonymous Tue., Nov. 23, 2010 at 11:06 am EST
After reading this article I realize that as a Puerto Rican woman it is not that much different in my world. I have been diagnosed with AIDS for almost 23 years and it is a secret as far as my mother is concern but not as far as I am concern. I am so BLESSED to be alive. When my husband died I had a little boy who is know 28 years old. Being a woman who became infected by my husband who today I believe was on the down low, it breaks my heart to hear that people are still getting infected after so many years of this disease and all we know about it because we just refuse to listen and learn how to keep ourselves safe. I work in the prison system educating inmates on HIV/AIDS and every chance I get I remind them that it could be your own mother, sister, daughter or grandmother who is living with this secret. Often to scared to tell because she doesn't feel anyone would understand and often someone understands a lot better then she realizes because they are living with the same secret. We just need to be open minded and remember we have all put ourselves at risk sometime in our life and by the grace of GOD is not you. Open your mind and your heart and don't be one of the people who goes around talking about people with AIDS but educating our brothers, sisters and communities about this preventive disease of AIDS.
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Comment by: pamela (namibia) Mon., Nov. 22, 2010 at 7:28 am EST
AIDS is a reality; therefore, let us talk about it openlyand freely. Most crucial when tested HIV + , just accept it and ive positively with the condition without fear and hiding it! Tell your loved ones, talk about it and take care of yourself. Care about your food and change your way of living sexually.
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Comment by: NADINE W. (NEW JERSEY) Tue., Nov. 16, 2010 at 1:08 am EST
I SO AGREE WITH THIS ENTIRE MESSAGE YOU'VE GIVEN THROUGH THIS INTRODUCTION FOR THIS WORLDS AIDS DAY 2010. THING IS SOCIETY IS TODAY,TOO JUDGEMENTAL,AND IGNORANCE IS CLEARLY THE CULPRIT. EVEN WITH ALL THE INFORMATION THAT IS AVAILABLE TODAY. YOU CANT TRUST TALKING TO PEOPLE THESE DAYS. WHERE YOU SPEAK OPENLY TO SOMEONE YOU COME TO TRUST IN THE WAY THAT ALLOWS YOU TO OPEN UP,AND WITHOUT YOUR KNOWLEDGE AT TIMES,YOU HAVE CHOSEN THE WRONG INDIVIDUAL TO SHARE WITH. THEY END UP TALKING TO OTHERS AND JUST LIKE STANDING FIVE PEOPLE TOGETHER,AND WHISPERING SOMETHING IN THE FIRST PERSONS' EAR,BUT WHEN IT GETS TO THE LAST PERSON,AND THEY REPEAT WHAT THEY WERE TOLD,AND IT ENDS UP BEING TOTALLY OFF FROM WHAT YOU SAID. IS THE SAME WAY YOU CHOSING THE WRONG PERSON TO SHARE WITH....I HAVE LEARND FROM FAMILY MEMBERS AND OTHERS AFFECTED BY THIS ISSUE HOW HURTFUL,PEOPLE CAN GET AND BE. NEVER CONSIDERING THEMSELVES IN THAT PLACE. IT'S REALLY HARD FOR THIS TO ACTUALLY OCCUR,AND IM NOT TRYING TO THINK NEGATIVELY,IM SPEAKING OF REALITY. I PRAY THAT THIS CAN TRULY B ADOPTED,THAT THE WORLD COULD ENTIRELY LEARN AND UNDERSTAND THIS AND STAND FOR TREATMENT,PREVENTION,AND COUNSELING.......IN THE NAME OF WHO I BELIEVE IN....JESUS CHRIST.
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