Expert Group Meeting on Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights

How many Indigenous people does it take to change the world?

On January 17-19, 2014 seven Indigenous experts were invited to attend the Expert Group Meeting on Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights at the UN Headquarters in New York City. One of the experts was Dr. Clive Aspin, Maori IIWGHA Leader who presented to the delegates of the meeting on HIV and Indigenous people.

From left to right: Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Jim Anaya, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Wilton Littlechild, Member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Ed John.

Dr. Aspin was in good company. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Jim Anaya, the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Wilton Littlechild and member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Ed John also attended.

The UN Expert Group Meeting was generated from recommendations resulting from the 12th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) that occurred in May 2013 where a delegation from IIWGHA also attended.

At the meeting Dr. Clive Aspin talked about how IIWGHA has been working toward increasing the visibility of the impact of HIV and AIDS in Indigenous communities at the international level. His paper titled HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections described the mistrust of health services by Indigenous people, highlighted Indigenous strengths and factors that increase vulnerability to HIV. Clive emphasized the challenges to collecting HIV data.

Dr. Clive Aspin interview with UN Multimedia


Clive reminded the experts of the desperation from the 1980s as the world struggled to understand the HIV virus. He reminded the group of the impact of HIV stigma and how AIDS was portrayed in the media as a disease of homosexuals, heroin users, hemophiliacs and Haitians. In New York City particularly, hundreds of protesters were arrested in the 80s while fighting for more dollars to be targeted to AIDS.

Since the advent of antiretroviral combination treatment in 1996, things have changed. AIDS did not take over the world but instead settled into marginalized populations with little control over their own health outcomes. Clive pointed out that now there is an imbalance between mainstream and Indigenous HIV data.

Clive says that we need to show the numbers of Indigenous people who are living with the disease in different countries and we need Indigenous community-based responses to HIV.

Harlan Pruden, IIWGHA Leader from the USA and José Yac, IIWGHA Leader from Guatemala who also attended the meeting, backed up Dr. Clive Aspin’s report describing the impact of HIV on two-spirit and trans people and how best practices need to be adapted to Indigenous contexts.

José Yac (left) IIWGHA Leader from Guatemala

Other experts presented on the intercultural approach to sexual and reproductive health, harmful practices, gender equality, discrimination, violence, maternal health, family planning, sexuality, cultural taboos and education.

Representatives from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and many other non-governmental organizations participated as did program officers from the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). It was good to see UNAIDS and UNPFII working together.

The final report of the International Expert Group Meeting on Sexual health and Reproductive Rights will be presented to the floor of the UNPFII in May of 2014. Five of the draft recommendations in the draft report are HIV specific and were drawn directly from the International Indigenous Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS for Indigenous Peoples and Communities from 2011-2017.

AIDS 2014 and the International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV & AIDS

Look for the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS in the Indigenous Peoples Networking Zone in the Global Village of AIDS 2014, the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia from July 20-25, 2014. But don’t stop there! We’ll be part of the scientific presentations as well.

This year, IIWGHA is co-hosting the 5th International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV & AIDS with the local hosts, the Australian Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Organizing Committee in Sydney (not Melbourne), Australia from July 17-19, 2014. We are working hard to put on the best Indigenous Pre-conference ever.

It will take all Indigenous people working together to change the world.

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