Getting Real

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realHere’s the vastly underreported good news about HIV and AIDS among African American women: In June 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a six percent drop in infection rates among Black women between the years 2000 and 2003. Later, in November, the CDC reported a five percent drop in infection rates among African Americans overall. We are making progress; prevention is working.

That said, there remains a staggering amount of work to do, particularly among Black women. While the vast majority of new infections still occur among men – both in America at large and in Black America – the racial gap in infection rates among women is astounding. The Black AIDS Institute’s latest report on the state of AIDS in Black America examines the social and political forces that are driving that gap, and begins to explore ways for Black women to counter them in their lives.

In Getting Real: Black Women Taking Charge in the Fight Against AIDS, health journalist Hilary Beard talks to HIV experts focusing on women of color, relationship and sexual health counselors, and Black women themselves to uncover how the broader social forces working in Black women’s lives have conspired to undermine their sexual health.

Getting Real’s overview lays out the grim statistics that show just how uniquely Black the female epidemic in the United States is today.

  • Black women accounted for 68 percent of new HIV infections between 2001 and 2004;
  • Those infections are overwhelmingly happening through unprotected heterosexual sex – 78 percent of Black female infections between 2001 and 2004 were through sex with men;
  • Among young women aged 13 to 24, African Americans accounted for 68 percent of all infections through 2001.
  • Among 13 to 19 year old girls, the Black share of infections through 2001 climbs to 78 percent.

The report then walks through the social and political forces that undermine Black women’s efforts to build and sustain healthy sexual partnerships – and relationships in general.

  • The impact of negative – or nonexistent – relationships with Black males during formative years. In particular, the impact of sexual abuse, which studies show increases the likelihood of a woman later engaging in behavior that will put her at risk for HIV by seven fold.
  • How relationship dynamics discourage Black women from standing up to protect their sexual health by insisting on the use of condoms and having consistent, open dialogue about trust and sexuality.
  • How poor access to health care and poor literacy surrounding STDs in general facilitates HIV’s spread among Black women.
  • How America’s centuries-long assault on Black men has in turn impacted Black women’s sexual health. How do the resulting gender imbalances, both in terms of plain numbers and in terms of equal partnerships, encourage Black women to accept less than they want and deserve within their relationships?

In addition to these themes, the report examines the impact the growing communal dialogue about Black men “on the down low” and explores Black mothers’ role in educating their children about HIV and sexual health, in a time when other sources for that information have either gone silent or are offering negative reinforcement of unhealthy practices.

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