Contributor: Natalia Cales
As the XVII International AIDS Conference (IAC) begins in Mexico City on August 3-8, thousands from around the world will be attending this monumental event. Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic more than 25 years ago, millions of people have been infected and affected. Today, the face of HIV is among young people, especially young women; throughout the world, young women are being infected with HIV.
As a young woman preparing to attend the IAC, I am looking forward to learning about solutions to this devastating issue. I am sure there will be many presenters to listen to and numerous workshops to attend. But, when the conference is over and everyone has returned home, will there be any “effective solutions” to conquering the HIV epidemic among us? Some may say that abstinence is the best solution, or increasing awareness and prevention strategies is more effective.
In my opinion, we need to examine why more females, who are heterosexual and committed to their partners, end up at the top of the list. Why have we become so vulnerable to HIV? Are we putting ourselves at risk in the “name of Love”? Is it the need or want for money that forces us to put ourselves at risk? Are we not aware of its impact or do we believe it “really can’t happen to us”? If you are living positively, does having “your voice heard” really matter? Or, are there adequate comprehensive prevention programs available to meet the needs of young women?
Young women need to be empowered to love and value themselves more than anyone else. We need to be confident enough to demand that our partners get tested before we engage in any sexual activity. Educational and employment opportunities need to be more accessible for young women, so we can provide for ourselves. Prevention and educational programs should be designed to meet our needs. Young women, who are infected with HIV, need to be visible advocates to increase awareness. They should be encourage and supported to share their personal experiences, to better relate to their peers.
I believe that many solutions to the problems facing young women in the response to HIV are ultimately within us! Those in power need to have us at the decision making table in fighting this disease. If I was in charge, I would make sure that educating and empowering my fellow sisters was #1 priority. Young women should have the communication skills to effectively negotiate with their partners. In reality, we all have the power within us to make a difference, but do we all believe this is true?
Kind regards until next time! ☺
Natalia Cales, YWCA USA