“Ewww! What’s that?!,” a seventh grade girl remarked as she picked up a hygiene product out of her gift bag at the conclusion of an Assist Her, Inc. workshop. The other young ladies quickly responded with street vernacular on the purpose of the product and how to use it. Some of their talk was based on personal experiences and some from mere hearsay. When I corrected them about the appropriate terms to represent a girl’s reproductive organs, all of the girls began to moan and groan loudly about the conversation being “gross,” “nasty” and inappropriate to discuss.
While reflecting on this situation, a few things came to mind. The first is that there are entirely too many young girls who are not knowledgeable about their bodies from a sexual health and responsibility perspective. Also, it is painfully obvious that conversations are not occurring between girls and their female caretakers. A female caretaker is not always the biological mother, but could be an older sister, aunt, grandmother, etc. This may be the first woman charged with the duty of ensuring that an emerging young woman knows how to properly care for her body, is prepped for the introduction of a menses and knows the implication of her period on future sexual practices.
March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Of those people, one in four (25%) is a woman 13 or older. Approximately 27,000 women have HIV but do not know they have the disease. If current trends continue, 1 in 32 black women will be infected with HIV in their lifetimes.
Take a stand against these statistics and engage in the following activities:
- Start having conversations with girls about their body parts as young as two years old.
- Discuss the arrival of a menstrual cycle and what it represents i.e., the ability to get pregnant.
- Encourage sexually active girls to have annual gynecological exams.
- Promote abstinence and/or safer sex practices i.e., condoms.
- Discuss what sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are and how they’re treated.