Over the years, the world has become a more gender inclusive realm, seeing an increase in women’s recognition and contribution to the modern society. In observance of the International Women’s Day (IWD) every 8th of this month, the Philippines celebrates the National Women’s Month every March. Its battlecry since 2017 up to 2022 is “We Make Change Work for Women.”
In support for this movement, LoveYourself aims to empower and give a stronger voice to our sisters, mothers, nieces, grandmas and granddaughters as well as our transgender women friends, who can definitely make a great impact in the development of a more accepting and progressive society. We believe that the women, particularly the Filipinas, can surely give the appropriate perspective to the pressing issue of HIV and AIDS, not just in the country, but to the world over.
This calls for a great discussion, since women account for 51% of the total global number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) or about 17.4 million individuals, according to the latest data of the World Health Organization. While it’s still low in the Philippines, the HIV epidemic is slowly making a dent on our female population with 599 total reported cases in 2018 alone.
Leading this crusade in stopping the HIV epidemic and inspiring every woman and Filipina on the planet is no less than Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Elisa Magnayon Gray. An advocate and ambassador of LoveYourself for nearly three years now, Catriona seizes this opportunity through a personal letter to bring forth the conversation on empowering women in the face of HIV.
8 March 2019
To all the women of the universe, Happy International Women’s Day.
Although today, messages of community, reflection and empowerment will fill your feeds and timelines, I want to add a message that, as a woman you may have thought doesn’t really apply to you. But it does. HIV/AIDS knows no gender, sexual preference or lifestyle. It can affect anyone and it does. But, the message I want to share today is not one of fear. In writing this, I want to create a safe space of learning, acceptance and empowerment – for all women on the front of HIV/AIDS.
This subject is one that strikes a personal cord for me as I have lost a friend due to AIDS-related health complications who was only 26 years young. Now writing this, age 25 myself, I can’t imagine having my life, or a life of someone close to me taken by this health condition. It’s heart breaking. To the women reading this, I do not want your life to be taken or defined by HIV/AIDS. To change and uplift the world for women and all people, we need to be around to make change happen. So say that we’re in this together. Let’s protect and love ourselves.
The first step is to get tested. I know it can be daunting. I’ve been there too – so I recorded the whole experience to show that if I could do it – so can you (the video is on my YouTube channel). Take my lead as you brave your first HIV test, and the succeeding ones, until it becomes a normal part of your health routine. Whatever the outcome may be, I want to emphasize that HIV is just a status: it doesn’t define you as a woman, more so as a person.
Apart from the fact that you can protect yourself from contracting HIV with the available methods, you should know that HIV is a manageable condition. If you are HIV negative, keep that status by practicing a safe and healthy lifestyle and by continuing with your HIV testing; and if you are diagnosed HIV positive, you can avail of free counselling and HIV treatment given by your government and/or even non-government organizations who are active in this cause, and of course, further take care of yourself. You have to remember that there is life after HIV if you regularly take the appropriate medicines. You can still live a normal, happy and active life.
I’ve often been asked what’s the best part of being a woman in 2019, and my answer is that we (women) are beginning to come together in communities and build each other up – because it’s really when we combine our voices together that we begin to break barriers. But it doesn’t just end at looking after ourselves, we need to gain further support from well-off countries to help our generation fight off this epidemic. Let’s do our part. I’m optimistic that if we raise our voices together, we can create change, because every one of us is affected by HIV. Let the power of women create the ripples of positive change in our larger community and transpire all over the universe.
As I end this letter, let me share you the words of one of the most inspiring ladies on this advocacy – Elizabeth Taylor once said, “It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.” Let’s continue to educate ourselves, our communities and one another, as we move forward to champion this cause.
As we endeavor a new beginning together this Women’s Month, I hope that my fellow Filipinos, Catrionians and supporters from all corners of the universe could help me spread more awareness, not just about HIV, but to all the causes that concern all women. Together, let’s uplift their spirits – for whatever journey they choose to pursue.
Much love and light,
After years of helping LoveYourself as a celebrity-ambassador, Catriona became a bonafide volunteer of LoveYourself as part of Batch Meraki, a word hailed from the Greeks for “doing something with soul, creativity or love.” The Miss Universe embodied that meaningful phrase in her “open letter,” addressing women to make bolder steps in taking care of themselves and their sexual health. Now more than ever, Catriona serves as a role model for the youth and the women as well as men all over the universe – indeed, the epitome of a true queen.
Text by Raybert Domingo
Photos by Ria Brines