After taking a course on AIDS and Christian ethics, and volunteering for two organizations that provide HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and support to Latinos in Los Angeles, seniors Isabel Arrastia and Elizabeth Shaw were shocked by what they had learned: Most HIV/AIDS-related services were offered to men despite the increasing prevalence of the disease among women, especially low-income women.
“It’s as if there is no recognition that women are contracting HIV/AIDS at alarming rates,” Shaw said. “Gender inequality in society often fuels the spread of the disease among women. Latinas are especially at-risk because of machismo that leads to cultural expectations of obedience and silence.”
With the help of the Strauss Scholarship, Arrastia and Shaw aim to help women affected by HIV/AIDS both abroad and locally, and to develop informational programs that specifically target Latinas.
“We are frustrated by the lack of attention to the needs of the Latina teenage population. Our class taught us that young Latina women are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, but our service experience showed that they were the one group least supported,” Arrastia said.
Arrastia and Shaw will participate in the XVII International AIDS Conference, which will be held in Mexico City in August. To learn methods to directly help women affected by the disease, they will work with The Global Village, an organization that aims to increase the involvement of affected and marginalized communities in the conference and in the global response to HIV/AIDS.
“The problem of AIDS is real, and it is important to address this epidemic. We hope to create a space for real conversations to occur,” Shaw said.
After returning to the United States, the two seniors intend to create and facilitate weekly support groups for high school and college-age women at Dolores Mission, a Hispanic Jesuit parish in East Los Angeles. Also, they plan to raise awareness on campus by organizing an education forum on HIV/AIDS and distributing information at the monthly Farmer’s Market, held on Alumni Mall.
“The support groups will provide a safe setting where young women will feel comfortable discussing issues such as self-respect, healthy sexuality, balanced relationships and positive female identity,” Arrastia said. “These efforts of empowerment … help combat the vulnerability of young women to HIV/AIDS.”
The Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship is awarded to students who display a commitment to public service or education. The foundation annually awards $10,000 scholarships to no less than 14 college juniors in California.