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Women We Watch: Susan Cole

October 06, 2021 - Alice Barnes
Women We Watch: Susan Cole
There’s nothing more inspiring to us than a woman who uses their voice to make a change and isn’t afraid to shout about issues that need to be addressed! We had a chat with award-winning HIV activist, broadcaster, writer, public speaker AND acrylic jewellery aficionado, Susan Cole.

Particularly passionate about issues affecting women and people of colour living with HIV, Susan writes, presents and raises awareness to the healthy inequities they face.
Hey Susan, you have many many strings to your bow, if you could describe what you do in five words what would they be?
Empowerment through kickass HIV knowledge

Right on! What is it about the HIV stigma that you find so important to put to bed?
I think much of the stigma around HIV stems from misinformation and outdated beliefs. The reality is that today people on effective treatment can live as long as anyone else, have children born free of HIV and it’s impossible to pass HIV onto our sexual partners! Despite these incredible advances, HIV related stigma continues to blight the lives of so many people with HIV. Time to move on and recognise HIV is a manageable condition and shouldn’t be a barrier to people living awesome lives, not just surviving but thriving with HIV!

You’ve been at the forefront of HIV education and activism in the UK for two decades, what is the proudest moment of your career?
It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but it was pretty cool being the keynote speaker at the largest HIV conference this year discussing how to unite policy, activism and science in an increasingly fragmented world - sharing top billing with Angela Merkel and Dr Fauci! 
You recently hosted an aidsmap panel discussion, is there anything else you have coming up soon? 
It’s been a lot of fun hosting and producing broadcasts for the HIV information charity NAM aidsmap – we’ve managed to share important information about HIV as well as COVID-19 with to a global audience, in ways people seem to really enjoy. 

We will hopefully be back with new shows later this Autumn, but this month I’m speaking at conferences and running interactive health information workshops for people of colour living with HIV, as knowledge really is power! 

This month is Black History Month, as a black woman you are obviously very passionate about issues affecting women and people of colour. What are the key problems you are trying to fight in your work?
I’m fighting to address the health inequalities that women and people of colour face, particularly around HIV. Despite the tremendous progress in HIV treatment and prevention, people of colour and women aren’t benefitting at the same levels from recent advances.

Women with HIV face intersecting forms of discrimination, stigma and violence. Even in rich countries like the UK, black people are more likely to be diagnosed late with HIV and have worse outcomes. But we are not passive voiceless victims – it’s important women and people of colour are meaningfully involved in all decisions about our care. Being equipped with knowledge about HIV is one of the most empowering things people can have. I work to get accurate and reliable HIV information to people in ways that work best for them.

Which women of colour do you find the most inspiring? Who should we follow on Instagram / Twitter?
There are many women of colour I find truly inspirational so it’s tricky to name just a few! Halima Begum, @Halima_Begum CEO of the Runnymede Trust does such important work in the fight for racial equality. 

The poet, health writer and researcher Bakita Kasadah @bakitakk , who lives with HIV, is one of the most extraordinarily talented people I know. 

There are three phenomenal doctors who do so much for health equity: Dr Vanessa Apea @vanessa_apea & Dr Rageshri Dhairyawan @crageshri both at Barts Hospital and Dr Shema Tariq, also a feminist academic, who has the most sublime collection of Tatty Devine necklaces! 

Wow, some really inspiring women there!
We regularly see you rocking our Smashing Stereotypes Necklace! What stereotypes do you feel like you smash regularly?
Your Smashing Stereotypes Necklace is my absolute favourite piece of jewellery and really encapsulates what I try to do! I think I regularly smash the stereotype that HIV is a barrier to living a long phenomenal life, gender and racial stereotypes, particularly the toxic “angry black unprofessional woman” crap. 

My kids may disagree with this one but I think I also smash the stereotype that menopausal women are frumpy and uncool!

Such an inspiration Susan! Are you ready for some quickfire questions?
Favourite book? Beloved by Toni Morrison (but I also love Pride and Prejudice so quite a contrast!)

Twitter or Instagram? Twitter (Follow Susan on Twitter @susancolehaley)

Earrings or Necklace? Necklace probably is the winner

Your happy place? My local woods in Croydon, I love walking my dogs there as it’s so peaceful – but I do need to stay vigilant as there’s sometimes the other type of “doggers” in the carpark!

Woof! We like your version of dogs in the park way better haha. Thanks for chatting with us Susan!

Keep up to date with Susan’s amazing work and upcoming events via her Twitter and Instagram. Let’s keep smashing those stereotypes!
Alice Barnes