December 1, 2015 – A national movement has swept the nation over the past two years calling for social change under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter. Women With A Vision, Inc. has stood with our partners locally and across the nation shining a light on the impact of state violence in marginalized communities. Through our own work we’ve shone a specific spotlight on the impact of state violence against Black women, girls, and LGBTQ communities.
Our work has always stood at the intersections of public health, harm reduction, direct service, and human rights policy advocacy, and as we join together to mourn and remember the lives of Black women lost to state violence, we also call out the ways the state has played a role in denying that same population access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services needed to live and thrive.
Today, on World AIDS Day, we lift up the stories of those who have experienced gender-specific forms of profiling and police violence at the hands of authorities, and we also lift up the voices, experiences, and needs of Black women and girls (queer and straight, cis and trans*) that have been denied access to preventative healthcare services, making them more and more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
For a quarter-century WWAV has worked to bring sexual and reproductive health and justice education, resources, and information to some of the most marginalized and forgotten communities in New Orleans. We’ve worked with poor women, Black women, transgender women, homeless women, incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated women, sex workers, and drug users. We have fought so that the everyday struggles that poor Black women face on a daily basis, struggles that now reverberate nationwide through calls to #SayHerName, have been at the table as we call for better HIV/AIDS health policy at the local, national, and international levels.
This work is ongoing, and continues to be critical. In the same ways that marginalized women, particularly Black women, have been invisibilized in conversations about criminal justice reform, incarceration, and police violence, they have also been invisibilized for far too many years when it comes to understanding the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis in our communities.
Here at Women With a Vision we see first hand in Louisiana and across the Deep South what the impact of invisibility means. The South is at the epicenter of the current HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, with more people living with HIV and dying of AIDS than in any region in the country. Louisiana ranks third in the nation for estimated HIV case rates, and Louisiana’s two largest cities, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, have the second and third-highest rates of new HIV infections for metropolitan areas in the nation. In New Orleans, 40 percent of people with HIV are not receiving treatment. This has had a devastating impact on communities of color, and other vulnerable and marginalized communities we work with locally.
African-American women in the United States account for over 64 percent of new HIV infections among women. One in 32 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV in her lifetime. For Black women in the South, HIV infection rates are even higher, with levels similar to those of sub-Saharan Africa. Among women in Louisiana, 81 percent of newly diagnosed HIV infections were among African Americans.
It is important as we fight for the lives of Black women and girls that we also work to lift up the ways state violence, physical/sexual violence, economic inequality, incarceration, poverty, and racism shape the sexual and reproductive health of poor Black women and girls. The high rates of HIV/AIDS among Black women and girls cannot be left out of the conversation about survival. And the structural violence preventing marginalized women and their families from accessing the preventive healthcare services they need, making the struggle against HIV and AIDS harder and harder, cannot continue to go unaddressed.
In New Orleans, those of us working on the ground with the city’s most marginalized populations bear witness to the devastating impact of state laws and policies that keep our communities barred from the resources they need to survive. We’re seeing how the long-standing socio-economic conditions that plague Louisiana — poverty, sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, and a lack of access to health care — combine with conservative state laws and policies to fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This deadly combination means that Black women and girls living with the disease in the South are at a far greater risk of dying from AIDS than those living in other regions.
On this World AIDS Day 2015, let us all commit to making the sexual and reproductive health of Black women and girls a core part of our movement work:
- We must fight for better access to drug assistance programs in Louisiana and across the Deep South so that Black women and girls living with disease and illness can access the medications they need to survive and thrive.
- We must expand Medicaid and fight for affordable healthcare plans under the Affordable Care Act in the state of Louisiana in order to bring needed healthcare to our poorest communities.
- We must take our education to the streets, educating around sexual health, contraception, and new HIV-preventative measures such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
- At the state level we must continue the fight for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education in our schools and communities.
- We must denounce the targeting of women’s healthcare and reproductive rights and freedoms, most recently seen in the act of terror enacted against the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. We must do all that we can to ensure that low-income women of color have access to safe and affordable sexual and reproductive healthcare and preventative services.
- We must fight the mass displacement and gentrification taking root in New Orleans and across our urban centers because we know affordable housing and strong, in-tact communities are a key part of building healthier lives.
- We must fight HIV criminalization laws that add yet another layer of stigma and policing to already over-policed and over-criminalized communities of color.
- We must work against the state and interpersonal gender-based violence targeting Black women, girls, and transgender women. Black women are not disposable.
- We must struggle for the deep, holistic systemic change needed to battle the structural inequalities that place African-American communities at risk for HIV/AIDS. This means supporting living wage campaigns and better employment for Black women and girls, as well as pushing back against the mass incarceration and mass criminalization of poor Black women and girls.
Join WWAV today as we raise awareness about the lives and health of Black women and girls. If Black lives are to matter, Black health must also matter. If we are to include a conversation about Black women and girls at every level of our social change work, we must also underscore their need for comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare services. We must understand that gender justice, sexual justice, and reproductive justice are all part of the work. We must make our movements intersectional ones, voicing the way race, poverty, gender, and sexuality intertwine in the daily lives of marginalized women. We must name the systemic forms of violence and exclusion that deny Black women and girls access to the healthcare they need, leading to their high rates of death from AIDS.
Stand with WWAV today and everyday in shining a light on the health and well-being of Black women and girls in Louisiana and across the Deep South.
Founded in 1989, Women With A Vision, Inc. (WWAV) is a community-based non-profit working to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions and punitive policies that hinder their health and well-being. WWAV accomplishes this through relentless advocacy, health education, supportive services, and community-based participatory research.