"Fanm Vanyan! Proteje tèt ou ak Moun ki Pròch ou!" (Translation: "Brave Women! Protect Yourself and Those You Love!")
As a woman born and raised in Haiti, I am aware of the various HIV misconceptions and stigma that are still present in the Haitian community. I want to use this platform to educate and encourage others to take the necessary steps in preventing and treating HIV.
On this National Women & Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I would encourage my Haitian women (Haitian immigrants and Haitian-Americans) to get on the offense and protect their health and that of their loved ones. I call on Haitian mothers to ensure their girls are equipped with the tools necessary to make informed decisions about their sexual behaviors. It is certainly not the norm in a Haitian household to openly discuss sexual risks and behaviors, but it is necessary. Although my experience was different, countless of my Haitian peers had almost no sexual education at home. It often came with the onset of a girl's menstruation, and was simply an acknowledgement that she could now bear children and should steer clear of boys.
Lack of sexual education in Haitian households, power dynamics, and lack of sexual autonomy are some of the factors that influence HIV incidence among Haitian women and girls living in the U.S. It is therefore not surprising that there has been "a greater proportional decrease in the number of incident AIDS cases for Haitian males, compared with females" in the U.S. from 1985-2007 (40% and 3%, respectively). In a study among HIV-positive female Haitian immigrants, one participant expressed that "Haitian women, even if they are dying, can't talk about these issues." The HIV stigma that Haitians continue to face in the U.S. -- a remnant of the U.S. press falsely identifying Haitians as one of the perceived risk factor for AIDS, the "Four H Disease" -- amongst other factors, is an obstacle to Haitian women and girls developing a forum within their community to discuss their HIV seropositive status and get the support that they need.
Despite all the hardship that Haitian women can face in a patriarchal culture, they contribute greatly to their household and their community. As the Haitian proverb says, "Fanm se poto mitan!" Haitian women have been known to prioritize their family member's needs ahead of theirs, and their self-esteem is rooted in their duty to provide for their family. Whether they are in their homeland or in the U.S., strength and dedication continue to be the definition of a Haitian woman. That strength should be used to "one-up" this epidemic.
We can diminish the transmission of HIV in our community by:
- Ensuring the children in our life have accurate information about HIV transmission.
- Supporting women who experience gender-based violence. Women deserve to feel safe at home and in their relationships.
- Realizing that monogamy needs to be two-side to prevent HIV transmission. Let's encourage women to protect themselves as they can, even if they are married or in a stable relationship.
Here are some helpful tips and resources to get you started:
Annie Coriolan is a manager on the Global Program team at NASTAD.