“When you bring consciousness to anything, things begin to shift.” (Eve Ensler)
It is time to bring awareness to the unique epidemic that faces women and girls across this country. As a community, we infrequently talk about how women and girls acquire HIV, how they deal with potential threats to their self-confidence, how their reproductive lives could be affected, and how to empower women and girls to protect themselves.
We cannot ignore that women and girls are becoming infected at faster rates than in years past. According to the Office on Women’s Health, women account for approximately 24 percent of all HIV diagnoses; that’s approximately 280,000 women living with HIV/AIDS in the United States and why women are one of the most at-risk groups in our country. Women of color are particularly affected, as they accounted for two-thirds (64%) of new AIDS diagnoses among women in 2010.
Unfortunately, Ohio’s numbers are comparable. In 2011, there were 1,103 new diagnoses of HIV infection in Ohio. Of these new infections, 20 percent were female . 60 percent of new diagnoses of HIV infection among women were black/African American, 33 percent were white and four percent were Hispanic/Latina. The 2012 HIV Epidemiological Profile, released by the Ohio Department of Health’s HIV Surveillance Team, reports that among females in Ohio, heterosexual contact was the leading mode (87%) of transmission, followed by injection drug use (13%) in 2011. It is clear that within the female at-risk population, African American women engaging in heterosexual relationships are at greatest risk for HIV/AIDS in Ohio.
If this is what the data shows, it is or obligation to raise our collective consciousness as to what drives those numbers. Do women and girls feel safe at home? Are they in trusting and respectful relationships? Are they at greater risk for human trafficking? Do they feel confident in their own sexuality to trust it to someone else? One of the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy is to reduce health disparities, so we must consider how socio-emotional factors put women, especially African American women, at greater risk for acquiring HIV. Increasing access to preventive health through the Affordable Care Act is a monumental step forward in providing quality care for all women regardless of their status.
When women are disempowered to control what happens to their bodies, women are at greater risk for acquiring HIV. We need to talk about healthy relationships, positive body image, and empowering women and girls to raise their voice and take back their bodies and their minds.
By raising awareness of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Day, we can all take a part in shifting the dialogue and creating an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. For more information on local NWGHAAD events happening in your community, please visit the Ohio AIDS Coalition’s page.
Senior Community Engagement Coordinator at OAC