Liberated Public Health Education: Why We Need to Empower Black Women to Discuss Sex and Sexuality

By Juhanna Rogers, Alexandrah Gichingiri, Fatima Drame, and Simran Gill

Black women make up 20 percent of the new cases of HIV. Of those who become infected, 32 percent seek care and have suppressed their viral loads. While Black and Latino men are the largest number of newly infected cases, Black women still have an incident rate that is 20 times that of white women and 4 times higher than that of Latino women.

As we reflect on Black women and HIV/AIDS, we have to also say their lives matter. Yet, the topic of sex and prevention is taboo in the Black community. HIV/AIDS is still making a significant impact on the lives of Black women.

As young Black female college students and aspiring public health professionals, we navigate through social standards and established traditional feminine ideals. Therefore, we must learn to survive, embrace, and liberate our sexuality.

(In July 2015, Juhanna Rogers, M.S.Ed., became the Director of an HIV/AIDS education and prevention program in Syracuse, New York, one of the most poverty-stricken communities for Black and Latinos in the nation.)

As a director for HIV/AIDS prevention program in this community, it is critical for me to examine the epidemic and how it intersects with social class, economic status, positionality, and education levels for Black men and women in order to talk the virus in a more intentional and culturally-inclusive way. The Black community, particularly Black young women, need to engage in conversations about sexual health and the impact of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, Syphilis, and other STIs on the Black community.

Popular culture provides a platform through which this movement can begin. Looking at shows such as Being Mary Jane, the main protagonist, played by Gabrielle Union, takes control of her own sexuality with a man she is dating. She invites him over and, instead of suggesting the typical dinner date, she plans an at-home, STD test for both of them to take prior to engaging in any sexual activities.

While this notion seem a bit farfetched, women need to realize that creating a space for this type of conversation is important. This space allows for sexual expression without the fear or even shame of being judged.

Spike Lee’s latest film, Chi-Raq, speaks both to the power of the woman and to curbing the behavior of men. Both Gabrielle Union’s and Spike Lee’s interpretation of Black women’s power to control their sexual behavior is a place to start with the idea of sexual liberation.

Sexual liberation may mean many different things to different people, but the idea of owning your own body and sexuality is consistent. In the quest for sexual liberation, Black women must remember to consider sisters who are less privileged and in life situations that deny them the right to assert and control their bodies, such as sex workers, abused women, and young girls.

HIV/AIDS is still an epidemic. While it is no longer a death sentence, we must still teach, assist, and advocate for sexual education, health, and empowerment of Black women.

As Black activists, organizers, and political leaders scream Black Lives Matter, we must look beyond police brutality or racial discrimination in the judicial system. Black Women’s Lives Matter and teaching Black women and young Black girls the power in owning their bodies and their sexuality is a critical part of the fight. We must continue the fight of this disease for the sake of our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and even ourselves.

juhanna

Juhanna Rogers is a doctoral candidate at Indiana University; she graduated in May 2016. Currently, she resides in Syracuse, New York, where she is Director of FACES, a HIV/AIDS prevention and support program.

From right to left: Alexandrah Gichingiri, Fatima Drame, Simran Gill

From right to left: Alexandrah Gichingiri, Fatima Drame, Simran Gill

Alexandrah Gichingiri is a senior at Syracuse University studying Public Health. As a native of Kenya who was raised in Texas, Alexandrah understands that health disparities exist and disproportionately affect the lives of others. She hopes to use her public health education and her passion for helping others to ensure that communities around the world receive culturally competent health care and education.

Fatima Drame, from New York City, has a B.S. in Public Health from Syracuse University. She will be pursuing her Master’s in Health Policy and Management at the University at Albany in Fall 2016.

Simran Gill, a native of Syracuse, New York Area, is an upcoming Syracuse University Class of 2016 graduate pursuing a B.S. in Public Health and B.A. in Psychology. She hopes to expand her experience educationally and internationally, as she will be travelling abroad post-graduation.


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