"You wear many hats": The multiple care responsibilities of ACB women living with HIV
Updated: Mar 28
Working in an AIDS service organization? It's not … it doesn’t pay well. For everything that you take on. You wear MANY hats.
The term “many hats” has become commonplace in the HIV sector, so much so that I wasn’t surprised the phrase came up in work stories I heard from African immigrant women living with HIV. “Many hats” describes the multiple roles that African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) women hold as workers living with HIV who are also “peers”, “advocates”, “community leaders” and people living with HIV. And the working stories of “wearing many hats” illuminate the multiple care responsibilities — within and outside of the HIV sector — that ACB women living with HIV fulfill as familial caregivers, community leaders, and employees in AIDS service and allied organizations (AASOs). Every time I heard the term, I couldn’t help but wonder about the potential heaviness of wearing so many hats, having so many care responsibilities, and if ACB women living with HIV had enough support in fulfilling all of those roles.
Cynthia Cannon Poindexter (2006) noted that women living with HIV who are employed in AASOs carried a “fourfold burden” of caring labour: living with HIV, caring for family, being in the workforce, and having a job working with others living with or affected by a health condition that they are living with as well. The many hats that ACB women living with HIV wear could be numerous since they often occupied multiple working roles: as intimate partners, mothers, family caregivers and employees in the HIV sector. For ACB immigrant women, their caring roles could also be transnational, caring for family, friends, or community “back home” alongside their care responsibilities here in Canada.
In listening to African immigrant women’s stories of HIV service work, I questioned if wearing multiple hats has become institutionalized in AASOs. For ACB women living with HIV, representing one’s AASO workplace as a “peer” could become another work task along with the everyday requirements of the job. For ACB women, that peer role could be intersectional where they may be representing the ACB community, immigrants, women and people living with HIV, particularly in mainstream organizations where they are limitedly represented.
While people living with HIV could desire to embody the principles of GIPA/MEPA as employees living with HIV, it might demand performing HIV in all aspects of their lives, including the workplace (Poindexter, 2006). There might be expectations to represent their AASO workplace outside of work hours, such as attending agency or community events, presenting at conferences, or acting as a community advisor on research projects. While agencies might provide time in lieu, they may not have the human resources to reassign work. Peer work occurring outside of one’s paid work responsibilities could contribute to multiple jobs, with only one job receiving financial remuneration (Baines, 2004).
We decided to illustrate the multiple working roles ACB women can play through the film “You wear many hats” based on the work stories of Norma. In reflecting on her many working roles as an AASO employee, Norma also questioned if she is amply compensated for all of the “hats” she wears because she cares.
“You wear many hats” by Norma*
Working in an AIDS service organization?
It's not … it doesn’t pay well.
For everything that you take on.
You wear MANY hats.
You are. A coordinator.
You are. A counsellor.
You are. A therapist.
You are. A friend.
You are. A mediator.
You are. All sorts of things.
Yea. You are. Wearing many hats.
And you are fulfilling many working roles
Management may not even be aware of.
*Pseudonyms used to maintain the confidentiality of the Narrators.