For its AAWE 4th Health Symposium Registration, AAWE scheduled a full weekend of activities during the weekend of October-27-28, 2006, . The first event was a legislative panel discussion on Friday October 27th during the opening plenary session from 6:30-7:30pm. Two Black female Illinois state representatives agreed to serve on the panel. There were Rep. Constance Howard and Rep. Deborah Graham. The panel discussion was based upon AAWE’s five issue areas:
- EC Emergency Contraception– AAWE is interested in EC being available over-the-counter to young women under 18 and also ensuring that pharmacists follow mandates and guidelines to dispense EC or make referrals to a nearby pharmacy that carries it. We also believe that women seeking EC are at risk for HIV or other STI’s, and, therefore, should be given information regarding testing, treatment, and prevention.
- Microbicides and HIV/AIDS– AAWE supports research and development of Microbicides, which will aid in the prevention of HIV by giving women the power to protect themselves from infection.
- Public Funding for Abortion (The Hyde Amendment)-AAWE views public funding for abortion as an ACCESS issue. Black women are three times as likely as white women to have an abortion and also represent a large percentage of women living under the poverty line, thus are using already limited resources that would otherwise be used for basic living necessities to obtain an abortion. We believe that denying ACCESS, no matter what your personal beliefs are, is discriminatory. The right to have an abortion is a constitutional right, and rights can only be realized through ACCESS.
- Feminine Hygiene products and Black women – Studies show that African American women douche at approximately twice the rate of Caucasian women. The Center for Disease Control estimates that approximately 27% of U.S. women douche regularly, and over half of those women are African American. We at AAWE believe that women have been fed the lie, through effective advertising and marketing, that feminine hygiene products are a necessity to reproductive health. However, douching is no longer encouraged as a healthy or safe way of routinely cleaning the vagina. Douching can, in fact, leave a woman more susceptible to bacterial infections and introduce new bacteria into the vagina and cervix. Women who douche regularly also have an increased risk of developing more cases of pelvic inflammatory disease by 73%. Our campaign is to inform women of potential risks associated with douching, and to advocate for a stricter review and regulation of the companies that manufacture feminine hygiene products. We believe there is a connection between the environment and reproductive health that we have not begun to look at from an African American women’s lens.
- New Reproductive Technologies-Science is advancing rapidly around new ways to control fertility and to have children. Some questions that arise for AAWE include: What will cloning and sex selection mean to African American women in a society that discriminates against and devalues the lives of African Americans and women? How will these technologies infringe upon our right to make choices about our reproductive health?
For a minimal admission of $10 for adults and $5 for students, participants received continental breakfast and lunch on Saturday, and all workshop and conference materials. Free childcare was also available. The Symposium focused on the intersections between women and girls being healthy, having healthy families, and living in healthy communities. The weekend looked at the totality of women’s lives and the social and economic conditions which have a direct impact on B;ack women’s ability to live in a balanced state of health and well-being.
The weekend closed with African American Women Evolving presenting its “Mind, Body & Spirit” award to several Black women who have being working to transform education, religion, social movements, and media. On Saturday, October 28, 2006, AAWE honored Zerrie D. Campbell, President, Malcolm X College, LaDonna Redmond, President/Founder, Institute for Community Resource Development, Loretta Ross, National Coordinator, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, Reverend Stacey L. Edwards, Trinity United Church of Christ, Sharon McGhee, WVON radio personality and author of the “Pocketbook Monologues”, and Dr. Bernice Williams, First Pentecostal Church of God. The Gala was held at the HotHouse Center for International Performance and Exhibition at 31 East Balbo, Chicago from 8:00pm to 1:00am. V103 radio personality Tornado, Big Daddy Woo Woo as the hosted the evening. There was also a special performance by actor/singer Llou Johnson, who has appeared in films like “Barbershop I and II,” “Let’s Go to Prison,” and the HBO film “Normal.” Tickets for the gala were $45, which covered admission, light hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction.
BWRJ held five health conferences during its 15-year existence. The above conference was held in partnership with a Malcolm X College, a local community college. During that weekend, BWRJ also hosted a performance of “The Pocket Monologues” written and produced by Sharon McGhee, a local radio personality. This was one of BWRJ’s most successful conferences because it was able to secure sponsorship from the local NBC affiliate, Chicago Foundation for Women, and LifeStyles condom.