Aboriginal Women Continue to Face Major Challenges in 2004

Monday, July 26 2010

For Immediate Release, March 5, 2004

(Ottawa) - International Women's Day celebrations brings opportunity to highlight specific issues facing Aboriginal women in Canada, especially in terms of HIV and AIDS.

In Canada, Aboriginal people are significantly over-represented for both HIV/AIDS, seeing an estimated 91% increase (1,430 to 2,740) during a three year period between 1996-1999 alone for HIV infections. AIDS cases among Aboriginal women are almost 3 times higher than non-Aboriginal women (23.1% versus 8.2%).

Unlike mainstream population, there is an almost equal ratio for both Aboriginal women and men for HIV/AIDS. Injection drug use and unprotected sex are the main factors in the spread of HIV/AIDS among Aboriginal communities.

Various social, economic and behavioral issues are believed to be influencing this health concern. In addition, Aboriginal women can experience a triple layer of marginalization, based on gender, race and HIV status.

As with mainstream society, power imbalances between Aboriginal women and men is a hindrance in ensuring Aboriginal women have the means and opportunities to protect themselves against HIV.

This power imbalance also affects efforts to overcome these challenges, since an Aboriginal community becomes imbalanced when only Aboriginal women are taking measures to heal from historical abuses, such as those that came with Residential Schooling.

Economic issues facing Aboriginal communities also create greater despair and fewer opportunities. For some Aboriginal women, the sex trade becomes a means of survival as they struggle to provide for children or maintain a roof over their head.

With injection drug use accounting for two-thirds of the new HIV infections among Aboriginal populations, Aboriginal women face further challenges. AIDS figures reveals that injection drug use as a risk factor is 6 times more common among Aboriginal women than their counterparts (35.9% versus 6.3%).

In one region, Regina Saskatchewan saw 8 women test HIV positive later in their pregnancies. Of these 8, 5 were Aboriginal. Similar situations are occurring in other areas.

Margaret Akan, Manager of All Nations Hope AIDS Network in  Saskatchewan and a member of the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network states "Regina Neonatal Intensive Care ward had 125 addicted babies born in the last 6 months. What about the epidemic of addicted babies? How will these families cope, or will there be a family?"

While clearly there is cause for celebration of International Women's Day in some areas, here in Canada, much more work is needed to improve the lives and opportunities for Aboriginal women. This is certainly true for HIV/AIDS and related issues.

With no stated commitment from Health Canada on the renewal of the Canadian Strategy on HIV/AIDS, the situation can only become worse should resources not be increased.

Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network
Ph: 1-613-567-1817, ext 110
Fax: 613-567-4652

All Nations Hope AIDS Network
Ph: 1-877-210-7622
Fax: 306-525-0904

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