WORLD AIDS DAY 2012: Thoughts On Empowerment

It seems that "Where has the year gone?" has replaced, "So, how about those (insert sports team here), huh?" and "What's up with this weather?" as the leading small-talk opening comment of late. November is over just as quickly as it began, and December is here, bringing with it all things winter, holidays, and end of year reflection. One very important thing that December brings us is International AIDS Awareness month, and today's World AIDS Day. It feels like I JUST wrote this piece on World AIDS Day 2011, and here we are, another 12 months later. What's changed? Statistics are still mind-boggling, especially for the African-American community. Recent reports state that while African-Americans make up 14% of the population, they comprise 44% of all new HIV infections. Here in Canada, our Supreme Court handed down a new legal ruling on the necessity of disclosure, which has had the health and activist communities abuzz with discussion. Most recently, news broke of a new HIV vaccine human clinical trial, which I wrote about for Frugivore Magazine. While we wait for researchers and Supreme Courts and scientists to tell us what they think of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we can work to take control of one thing: ourselves. But is it as easy as we think?

Empowerment is a tricky thing. On one hand, it's a positive force that allows us to educate ourselves and act accordingly based on our knowledge. We can learn about how HIV is transmitted, how AIDS develops, and what we can do to protect ourselves. We can empower ourselves to have the "safe sex" conversation with our partners, to tell them with unwavering certainty, "No glove, no love!", and be steadfast in getting tested to know our status.

However, there's another side of empowerment that needs to be considered. What about those who are unable to hold a position of power in their relationships? What about those who don't have the same vehicles of information-gathering? What about those whose cultural backgrounds are square pegs in the round hole system we live in? Do we (as community workers, as healthcare providers, as friends and family) do a good enough job to help those people navigate empowerment? I don't have all the answers, just a lot of questions.

On this World AIDS day, I encourage all of my readers to empower themselves through knowledge - know the truth about HIV, reject the stereotypes and incorrect info, and most importantly, know your status. Not only that, I encourage everyone to think about navigating empowerment. Take a look at the lives and relationships of the people around you. Are there people who are facing barriers to personal empowerment that might impede their ability to fight against HIV/AIDS? Are there people who are in a relationship with power imbalances or threats of violence? People whose cultural traditions and understandings require special attention in the dissemination of HIV prevention information? People who have let irrational fears get in the way of knowing their status?  Take a moment to think about those people, whether it's a friend, a family member, or even yourself. Breaking down the barriers to empowerment is a crucial step, and is often overlooked in well-meaning messages about HIV/AIDS.

One of the ways to break down barriers is to use art to showcase people "just like us" who are addressing important health issues. Thanks to homie and reader Dee, I spent my evening watching part 1 of Tribes, from MTV's Staying Alive series. Set in Trinidad, it's a short series that highlights sex, relationships, and HIV/AIDS from a Caribbean youth perspective. I loved it for a few reasons - it features Red 96.7FM (one of my FAVOURITE radio stations), it puts the budding Caribbean film industry in a world stage, and it addresses the complexities of HIV/AIDS prevention in a real way. Check out part 1, and be sure to watch parts 2 and 3 on Vimeo!


Will you be doing anything to mark World AIDS Day and the International AIDS Awareness month? Will you be getting tested or taking part in any HIV/AIDS awareness events? Let me know!

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