By 2016, nearly a quarter of all people living with HIV were women. The following year, Black women were reported to represent almost 60% of all women living with HIV. To make things worse, according to amfAR, 1 out of every 9 women living with HIV in the U.S. is unaware of her status. We can expect these numbers to continue to rise until we all come together to take action — first by acknowledging the disparities faced by women and girls, and then by changing the many inequities faced by them in the fight against HIV.
When we look at race, social class, economic status and a host of other intersectional societal issues, we see why women are fighting against many systems and fighting to be seen and heard in the fight against HIV. Let us honor the women and girl warriors who continue to fight the good fight to end the epidemic.
Women and Girls HIV & AIDS Awareness Day falls during Women’s History Month. Annually on March 10, we commemorate this day and bring awareness to the HIV epidemic and how it affects women and girls around the world. Even in this new decade, America often treats women as less valuable, professional and loyal, and more sexualized, vilified and easily replaced.
Women are making huge strides in every part of our lives. We are champions in athletics with the Williams sisters. We are breaking through the ivory towers of ballet with Misty Copeland, and dominating the recording industry with Lizzo. And, we are becoming business billionaires like Oprah Winfrey. Women living well with HIV like activist Linda Scruggs are blazing trails for all women and girls to follow. There is no limit to what women and girls can do, and we are continuing to break rules and break down barriers every day. Yet, women and girls are still disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic and not represented equitably in research and funding.
This year’s theme of “Prevention Starts with Me” is a message to women and girls that we must take the lead in advocating for our own health and health care. Prevention for women without HIV means taking control of our sexual and reproductive health. It means testing for HIV and other STDs regularly, even when we aren’t considered at high risk. Prevention for women means building strong villages of support and leaving relationships that are not healthy.
For all women and girls, we must acknowledge our own mental, emotional, physical and sexual health needs. For women and girls living with HIV, prevention means living healthily, with our eyes on the prize of ending the HIV epidemic. For women with HIV, prevention means medical adherence that will help most achieve viral suppression making it impossible to pass along HIV to sexual partners. Prevention for all women and girls means using our voices to uplift others.
HIV is not a death sentence, but is not entirely avoidable. If you have an HIV diagnosis, do what’s best for yourself first, and for your family and friends — and that means taking charge of your own health and health care. Know that there is an entire community of other women and girls who support you on this day and others. And most importantly, know that you are not alone.