November 10, 2012 • Podcasts
Aboriginal Women’s Cultural Safety and Sexual Health
Continued from page 2
CR: Well, yes to all those. But I think if we really want to understand those disparities, we really have to go back to the beginning, and some people suggest that we don’t need to keep looking back, but in order to understand what’s going on now, we really do have to understand how this all began. So, most folks are familiar with the term colonization. Based on the literature I’ve been able to find – and there’s not a lot in the historical records, but Indigenous people’s sexuality prior to contact was really quite healthy when we compare it to the European sensibilities around sex, particularly during the Victorian era, where people were really uncomfortable with it. What we’ve been able to discover is that Indigenous people, particularly in North America, were quite comfortable with their sexuality. Women had a lot of sexual agency, sexual assault was not tolerated in societies, and so the sexual safety of women and children was protected. So, with settlement by European, mostly men, who didn’t have the same…
CR: Comfort and values around sexuality and gender equity. We saw a transition, over time, to much more patriarchal gender roles. And during that process, Indigenous women were often sexually exploited, sexually violated. And then, of course, with the imposition of the residential schools, many Aboriginal men and women – well girls and boys – suffered sexual abuse. And, not only that, were taught to feel quite shameful about their sexuality. And so, it really just changed the sexual values and practices of Indigenous people around the world, but particularly in Canada.
What we see now, is a generational effect of that, in the sense that people don’t talk about sexuality, they’re not comfortable talking about it, and, in particular, in communities, people are not at all comfortable, in most communities, talking about HIV. So aside from those things, government policies have created disparities for Aboriginal people across the board – health, education, economic development. So, those things that most of us take for granted, like access to health care, preventative programs, often don’t exist on First Nations reserves or Inuit communities. So, what we see is folks who may not have access to pregnancy tests, to HIV tests, to other STI screening, they’re not getting screened and tested as much as they should. And then, there’s a lot of stigma about HIV in the communities. A lot times, people, they don’t want to be tested, they don’t want to know, because they’re afraid that someone will find out. And so women, often, are diagnosed quite late in their infections, and this is actually similar for men, for Aboriginal men, so the treatment regimens are less successful, often.
In our research, it’s called Safe Spaces, so this was the project that we did with Aboriginal women, who are infected with HIV, looking at the role of sexual violence in their lives. They obviously talked about sexual violence, but one of the things that they talked, probably more about were things like the lack of opportunity to get an education, the lack of opportunity to get a job, the fact that if they had children at an early age – which happens in lots of different communities, but it tends to happen more often in First Nations and other Aboriginal communities, women are, tend to be younger when they’re having their kids –that puts an enormous amount of financial stress on women, if they’re not able to get a job that pays them enough money to raise their kids, well then they’re often having to rely on the welfare state.
And for some women – not all –because I don’t want to paint all Aboriginal women with the same brush, but the women that we see, who are infected with HIV, often they’re coping with some trauma, related, oftentimes, to some sort of abuse and neglect, and so, they sometimes will cope with that trauma through drug use, and they sometimes will support that drug use by working on the street. And they become quite vulnerable to not only, like, generalized violence, but also sexual violence, and to all kinds of other stigma that’s attached to not only being Aboriginal, but being an Aboriginal women and being a poor Aboriginal woman, and being an Aboriginal woman who may be using IV drugs and who is HIV positive. So, I mean, talk about, like, multiple jeopardies, right?