Jasmine “Jazzy” Mae’s panel on the AIDS Quilt is just one of many adorned with lighthearted images of children that contrast the dark reality of the quilt. The panel contains pictures of Jazzy and the toys she probably enjoyed before she died at just two years old. The AIDS Quilt tells thousands of stories of people who died of HIV/AIDS throughout the last several decades, but some panels, such as this one, leave an important story untold. When we look at a quilt of a young child it is easy to get swept up in the emotion the sight provokes, but we must acknowledge a prevalent, lurking question. What about her mother?
Rather than being acknowledged as victims of a horrible virus, when women were finally acknowledged by the media and in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, they were primarily perceived as transmitters. This was apparent in cases of mothers transmitting to their fetus and prostitutes to their clients (Higgins et al.). The narrow-minded origin of these attitudes had influence on the present treatment of women in the issue of HIV/AIDS. The intersection of social behavior, biological differences, and lack of education has created a complex issue that presents complications of inequality in the HIV/AIDS narrative for women, but particularly those in impoverished communities, women of color, and expecting mothers.
This paper will be divided into two parts: first, problems women face in terms of the reasons or explanations of inequality in HIV/AIDS transmission. This is broken into four parts, each one delving further into a specific problem. The first problem explained is the power imbalance in sex, under which I explain the social and biological ways women are disadvantaged in terms of their protection from HIV. Next, I have analyzed how the lack of education women receive factors into this complex issue and highlight the way in which sex education in school fails women and how this plays into child mortality rates by race and region. Third, I will be addressing the social stigma that women who have HIV face, but am focusing specifically on mothers who are raising children without HIV. Finally, I am addressing the problems that minority populations such as women in the criminal justice system and children face by showing their underrepresentation in HIV/AIDS treatment and the way they do not necessarily follow the same patterns of contraction and treatment as other women.
The second half of this paper analyzes two potential solutions for the reduction of HIV/AIDS transmission. The first solution is reformed sexual education, and using a study composed of Georgia State University and Emory University students I address the ways that students feel the sexual education they received was lacking. The second potential solution I am posing is better implementation of contraceptive methods through tenofovir gel, an effective but under-utilized contraceptive that women can use without depending on a man’s compliance.
To conclude and offer an alternative viewpoint that contradicts the almost “victim narrative” created through the rest of this paper, I have included a photo journal consisting of women who have HIV and their attitudes towards the virus and how they have changed over time. Analyzing these attitudes further could be the key to understanding and implementing better forms of prevention and education, which is discussed further in the conclusion.