The needs of aboriginal women will be part of the focus at the AIDS Committee of Durham Region Conference next month.
A special section of the conference called In Her Skin, will address the many issues aboriginal women face, such as the high risk of HIV/AIDS infection.
The conference will be held February 17–18 at Trent University in Oshawa and is open to the general public.
“I’m very excited because this is really important information,” Devorah Garland, coordinator of In Her Skin and women’s services at the AIDS Committee of Durham Region.
She started In Her Skin five years ago to help services, such as shelters, to better understand the needs of women living with HIV/Aids.
In Her Skin holds a conference each year to address the needs of different women in the community.
Last year’s In Her Skin conference brought awareness about the needs of African and Caribbean women.
Garland says she has wanted to focus on the needs of aboriginal women for years, but was unable to until this year.
“There’s been growing support for aboriginals in our community, so it’s the perfect time to focus on aboriginal women,” she says.
Currently, aboriginals are four-times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS compared to non-aboriginals, she says.
These statistics, along with the high rates of sexual violence, are part of the many disadvantages for aboriginal women, she says.
Some of these disadvantages, which include racial discrimination and poverty rates, will also be addressed during the conference.
A half-day of the conference will be dedicated to the In Her Skin presentations.
This year, In Her Skin is part of the AIDS Committee of Durham Region Conference, which is held every two years.
Garland says the two conferences join together when both are holding events the same year.
Other minorities also get awareness during other parts of the conference, including trans-gendered and two-spirited men. The Rainbow Resource Centre defines a two-spirited person as someone who shares a male and female spirit.
This idea originated from aboriginal culture, but has only recently been gaining support again, says the centre’s website.
Garland says the conference is important because the risk of HIV/AIDS infection is rising for certain groups, including heterosexuals.
She says HIV/AIDS used to be considered a gay disease because when it was first recognized in the 80’s, it was mostly affecting the gay community of San Francisco.
“It is not a gay disease globally, it is a heterosexual disease,” she says.
She says now the disease amongst heterosexuals is almost on par with gay men, which puts the women she tries to help at risk.
She says the main aim of the In Her Skin portion of the conference is for shelters, hospitals and other services that try to help affected women understand the difficulties some women face.
She believes the conference will help hospitals, food banks and other organizations better understand the women they serve.
Although the In Her Skin conference is mainly targeted toward services that help women, Garland doesn’t think that should stop students from coming.
“It is going to be fascinating, filled with information and they are going to get fed!”
The two-day conference starts off with a continental breakfast each morning.
It costs between $50-$65 to attend, but admission is free if you are a student or have HIV/AIDS.
The deadline for registration is Monday, February 8.
You can pre-register at www.durhamhivconference.ca.