Reflections on Durban: The Meaningful Engagement of Women and Girls 6th International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV & AIDS

“Only with the meaningful engagement of Indigenous Peoples will UNAIDS and the world realize its goal of Getting To Zero by 2030”

Marama Pala – Co-chair, International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS

The world has come closer to ending AIDS but we’re not there yet.

In July of 2016, while 35 million people are living with HIV, the world returned to Durban, South Africa for the International AIDS Conference (IAC). The last time the IAC was in Durban was the year 2000 when AIDS was winning the battle against people in Southern Africa and most people had no access to the new antiretroviral medications.

The message from this year’s IAC was one of cautious optimism. While we have made great strides in providing prevention services, testing and access to treatment, there are still groups being left behind. And women and girls continue to carry the largest burden of HIV in the world. Women also tend to be the caregivers and health providers for people living with HIV, especially in our Indigenous communities.

In recognition of this reality, the International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV & AIDS (IIPCHA) emphasized a primary focus on Indigenous women and girls living with HIV and women working in HIV recognizing the multiple leadership roles that women have been traditionally championing in the community response to HIV. Women were there from the beginning.

One of four learning tracks in our Pre-conference was titled: The Meaningful Engagement of Women and Girls. This track not only embraced the concept of the greater involvement of women and girls living with HIV but also women working in HIV and focused in the areas of policy making, the provision of direct services, programme development and implementation, leadership, support, group networking and sharing, advocacy, campaigns and public speaking, personal, treatment and preparedness.  Workshops for this track addressed the intergenerational stories of Indigenous women living with HIV & AIDS, research, community building, frameworks for effective and meaningful engagement and inclusion, or grassroots organizing among other things.

Two highlights of this theme were presentations from two scholars from the KwaZulu Natal University. Dr. Relebohile Moletsane presented on Persisting barriers to HIV prevention among young women in rural South Africa while Zodwa Masinga’s keynote address focused on Zulu Indigenous specific approaches to HIV and AIDS through rite of passage and traditional medicine.

Another focus on women was a presentation from Canada called Visioning Health: The Meaningful Engagement of Indigenous Women Living with HIV in Health Intervention Research. This diverse panel included Tracey Prentice, Kerrigan Johnson, Krista Shore, T. Sharp Dopler and Renée Masching.

Their session emphasized skills-building and knowledge exchange by sharing the story of Visioning Health from four perspectives, ie, Indigenous women living with HIV, community partners, academic partner, and Traditional Knowledge Keeper. The audience learned about meaningfully engaging women living with HIV in on-going research, developing research protocols that honour and support women living with HIV, co-creating safe spaces for women living with HIV and all research team members and centering Indigenous knowledge and culture in research.

The Pre-conference aimed to strengthen Indigenous Peoples solidarity and begin the growth of an Indigenous-led response in Southern Africa by providing a reliable venue for dialogue about barriers, lessons learned, Indigenous realities and best practices leading to the sharing of efficacious strategies and tactics such as approaches to mobilization, advocacy and activism with the Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

The discussions and sharing of experiences of stigmatized Key Affected Populations (KAPs) took place around Indigenous men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who use drugs, people involved in sex work, people who are or have been incarcerated, children born with HIV, people with mental health issues and people with disabilities, in the spirit of “no one left behind.”

Overall, the Indigenous Pre-Conference achieved its intended objectives. Delegates, the majority of whom were Indigenous, provided feedback on the Indigenous Pre-Conference telling us that the personal stories shared by presenters living with HIV were both educational and relatable. They also appreciated learning from local presenters and those who work with Indigenous peoples living with HIV.

While HIV infections in the world’s most hard hit regions are going down slightly, there are other areas in the world and pockets of certain groups, such as Indigenous Peoples where infection rates are still going up. There is a lot to celebrate, but we can do better.

The International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS would like to thank the members of the Pre-conference Planning Committee for their committed volunteer work.

Indigenous Peoples Networking Zone in the Global Village of AIDS 2016

The Global Village is a diverse and vibrant space where communities gather from all over the world to meet, share and learn from each other. It is a space for communities to demonstrate the application of science and good leadership; to show how science translates into community action and intervention. The Global Village promotes networking between North and South, East and West and provides a space for displays, discussions and performances from all over the world. The Global Village is open to the general public and conference delegates and admission is free.

The Indigenous Peoples Network Zone (IPNZ) was a culturally safe and open space for Indigenous Peoples and their allies to meet, discuss, learn and share information. Indigenous Peoples ran an interactive program of events for the duration of AIDS 2016, including panel discussions, networking collaboration, collective brainstorming, presentations, workshops, video/audio resources, traditional practices and cultural performances; catering to all the diverse populations within the Indigenous cultures of the world including key populations.

This year IIWGHA partnered with an organization called PROMETRA. PROMETRA is an international organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of African traditional medicine and indigenous science. It is an institution of scientific and cultural research, medical practice and is an instrument for African integration and international relations. Our purpose is to preserve African traditional medicine, culture and indigenous science through research, education, advocacy and traditional medical practice.

The African hut, built by our PROMETRA partners, was a big hit with anyone who visited our networking zone, including the Canadian and African federal Ministers of Health. A traditional healer, known in South Africa as a Sangoma occupied the hut and welcomed questions and prayers while she shared traditional knowledge. Traditional healers are consulted by approximately 60% of the South African population, usually in conjunction with modern biomedical services.

Filed Under: Fall Winter 2016 Newsletter

About the Author: Brought to you by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN).

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