“We’re Not Dolls! Don’t Play With Women’s Lives”


New Yorkers found the unexpected site of hundreds of tiny dolls lining the steps of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall on Wednesday, March 10th, as women, young girls, and their allies called for action on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness DayThe Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported each one bore a large pink label with statements like:

“I am an 18- year-old woman who just contracted HIV.”

Or “I am a Hispanic 60-year-old woman who has HIV.”

The dolls drew crowds as real live women and young girls lined the steps bearing signs declaring, “We’re Not Dolls! Don’t Play With Women’s Lives!” The event, sponsored by GMHC–one of the nation’s oldest HIV and AIDS advocacy organizations–and joined by many co-sponsors had delightful dolls and a colorful target, but a serious message. HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) continue to rise at alarming rates among women and girls in New York City. According to the Daily Eagle, each doll represented multiple women and girls from Brooklyn who are infected with or affected by these diseases.

“When we talk about HIV/AIDS in New York City, we have to talk about women, who in 2008 represented an astounding 29.2 percent of the city’s new AIDS diagnoses,” said Deputy President Yvonne Graham.

“And unfortunately, parts of Brooklyn continue to be — along with the Bronx — the epicenter of HIV/AIDS for women, with women of color far outnumbering both new diagnoses of HIV and AIDS compared with their white counterparts. The Borough President’s Office continues to advocate for increased funding from every level of government, so that efforts in prevention, testing and treatment can reach all of our residents regardless of their ability to pay or their access to healthcare,” Graham said.

New York City is considered one of the best cities on earth. You wouldn’t think the “city of dreams” doesn’t provide adequate education and prevention programs for citizens suffering from HIV/AIDS. That’s sort of sad, don’t you agree? According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, while 2007 figures show Manhattan to have slightly more cases of HIV/AIDS overall, Brooklyn has more young women ages 13 to 24 living with HIV than anywhere else in the city. Roughly 90 percent are black and Hispanic.

Seeing that healthcare reform is a controversial subject right now in our country, you would assume senators, representatives, and organizations would try harder to make sure women and children receive the most adequate care possible. Instead of fighting, why are we not working to make sure these citizens, the ones that need the most care, are receiving the best we have to give.

HIV does not discriminate, so why should we?

What does that say about the education we provide to young adults? Are we truly giving medically accurate information in school? Do you believe if we provided more information, resources, and more prevention programs unwanted pregnancy and HIV/AIDS and STDs would decline? The activists who demonstrated on Wednesday think so.

“It is staggering, but not surprising, that black and Latino women and girls are disproportionately impacted by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in the United States,” said Marjorie J. Hill, PhD, chief executive officer of GMHC. These trends are the result of “systematic and institutionalized racism, inequitable access to healthcare, and poverty,” she said.

“As the rates continue to grow, the city needs to place a greater emphasis on HIV prevention, care and treatment services, as well as comprehensive sex education in schools,” added Hill. “The city needs a ‘Call to Action.’”

Many believe the City of New York needs a “Call to Action.” It is a shame that other countries can provide women with the needed healthcare, but as the U.S., the greatest country of the world, we fall short each time. Care2.com reports that according to Amnesty International:

Too many women in the U.S. lack adequate health insurance. Women of color make up 51 percent of uninsured women in this country. And even women who do carry insurance policies may not have maternal care coverage because pregnancy is often considered a pre-existing condition.

According to the report, almost half of all pregnancies are unintended and that number is much higher for women of color. But Medicaid restricts access to abortion services and most states do not fund even medically necessary abortions.  Conscience clauses allow healthcare providers and pharmacists to refuse services and contraception to women on the grounds of moral or religious beliefs.

The realization is our country does not offer enough options for women, especially those of color who are in need of services. We can point the finger at Brooklyn’s inadequate resources, but the United States could contribute more when it comes to women and girls.

Women are members of society. They deserve the same basic rights as everyone else. Women’s rights are human rights and should be treated as such. And reproductive healthcare is healthcare and should be categorized as such.

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