Friday, March 7, 2014

5 Female #StigmaWarriors who will inspire

For those of you not in the know, Saturday the 8th is InternationalWomen’s Day, and Monday the 10th is National Women’s and Girl’s HIV/AIDSAwareness Day! All week long we have been participating in these awareness days and today we are celebrating some INCREDIBLE women who are living with HIV and fighting against stigma every day. We have highlighted five amazing female #StigmaWarriors-- though there are so many to choose from!!! Below please find a profile of each of these female #StigmaWarriors and the ways they work to stop stigma. 

We hope they will inspire you – as they inspire us every day - to join them in stopping stigma!

Paige Rawl is a young HIV activist who was diagnosed at the age of two. When Paige was in the sixth grade, she confided to her best friend that she was HIV-positive, and within two weeks, the entire school knew that she was living with HIV. Because students didn’t understand what living with HIV meant, Paige was bullied so much she was forced to leave school.

When Paige entered the ninth grade, she decided to turn her negative experiences into positive lessons.  At the age of fourteen she received certification by the American RedCross and became an HIV/AIDS educator. She is the youngest person who has ever received this type of certification from the Red Cross. Paige began traveling the country speaking at schools about living with HIV. She has also worked with such programs as the Indianapolis Urban League "to encourage young adults to take control of their sexual health and fight back against bullying" [1]. She even helped pass anti-bullying legislation in her home state of Indiana. Because of this extraordinary activism Paige was nominated for Seventeen Magazine’s ‘Pretty Amazing’ contestand finished in the top five.

Paige currently attends Ball State University where she is studying for a degree in Molecular Biology and hopes to become an HIV/AIDS researcher, and plans to continue to use her inspiring story to fight HIV stigma.

Hydeia was diagnosed with HIV at the age of three and by the age of six years she began her HIV/AIDS activism. Hydeia is the first African-American youth to be an HIV/AIDS activist. By the time she was twelve years old she had appeared on many national television shows, including:
  • Oprah
  • 20/20
  • Good Morning America
  • “A Conversation with Magic Johnson” on Nickelodeon.

Ebony Magazine named Hydeia one of the Most Influential 150 African Americans in 2008 and 2011. She has also been honored by the American Red Cross and received an Essence Award in 1999.

With her high pitched voice and sweet braids, Hydeia captured the hearts of the nation with ten words: “I just want people to know that [people living with HIV] are normal people.” [2] She is the little girl with AIDS who grew up, and at a time when HIV was severely misunderstood she put a human face on the condition. Hydeia continues to fight stigma through speaking engagements.

Elizabeth contracted HIV through medical malpractice and unknowingly passed the virus to her children, Ariel and Jake. Neither Ariel nor Jake could be treated because there were no antiretroviral medications approved to treat children at the time, and doctors did not believe that HIV/AIDS was prevalent among children. After Ariel’s death in 1988, and her fear that Jake would die shortly after, Elizabeth founded the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation in order to bring hope to children living with HIV/AIDS. It spurred federal funding to study mother-to-child transmission and to produce antiretroviral medication for children.

While she passed away in 1994, her legacy lives on in Jake and the foundation that bears her name. By fighting to get treatment for her children, Elizabeth made sure that no child would ever again have to go through what Ariel and Jake went through.

Today EGPAF:
  • Is supporting 7,300 HIV clinics  around the world, and programs have reached nearly 18 million women with PMTCT services
  •  Has tested more than 16 million women for HIV;
  •  Has enrolled nearly 2.1 million individuals, including more than 165,000 children, into HIV care and support programs; and
  • Has started more than 1.1 million individuals, including nearly 99,000 children, on antiretroviral treatment.

Africa’s most famous HIV/AIDS activist, Beatrice Were first came to fame when she publically disclosed her status and spoke out against the Ugandan government’s policies about the issue. In 1993, after her first husband died of AIDS, she founded the National Community of Women Living With HIV/AIDSin Uganda (NACOWLA), a grassroots organization which provides support and services to more than 40,000 women living with HIV in Uganda.

Beatrice first went public with her HIV status in 1995, largely to combat stigma in Uganda. Prior to her coming out about her status many did not believe someone with HIV could lead a grassroots organization to combat HIV stigma, but Beatrice proved them wrong. The surrounding media attention helped her draw attention to the largest issues facing African women living with HIV, which included lack of access to medical care and lack of support systems. Thanks to Beatrice’s guidance, grassroots organizations that fought against stigma resulted in international praise for Uganda’s HIV prevention programs. However, she has been critical of PEPFAR for allowing radical evangelicalgroups to come in and spread HIV stigma.

Beatrice continues her HIV activism and continues to promote programs which effectively fight HIV stigma.

After being diagnosed with HIV as a young child, Nina Martinez inadvertently fought stigma thanks to her belief that HIV made her automatically related to Magic Johnson, which quickly made her popular among her peers. Her HIV activism truly took off during her time as an undergraduate at Georgetown; there Nina volunteered for research studies at the NIH and participated in the Georgetown AIDS Coalition. She has always felt comfortable in her own skin and honest about her status, and has found that has helped combat HIV stigma..

Nina fought stigma by being honest about her condition and through using humor to be open about her HIV status. Today Nina holds a master’s degree in Public Health and works as an HIV researcher. She also continues her activism through interviews and posts over social media.


I hope these women have inspired you to join in the fight against HIV stigma – they certainly have inspired us at the SAN! Each of them demonstrates that if you believe in this cause, in your own way you can make a difference as a #StigmaWarrior. Fighting stigma is as simple as listening to someone living with HIV or going on Google and educating yourself about stigma. You can also volunteer at many places, including the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, or donate to NAWCOLA. It doesn't take much for you to make a world of difference and be a #StigmaWarrior!

Happy Women’s Day to all!

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