Improving health care for indigenous women living with violence

Improving health care for indigenous women living with violence
© IStock/Juanmonino

New research finds that cultural practices have the ability of improving health care for Indigenous women living with violence.

According to the University of British Columbia and Western University, Canada, improving the health care of Indigenous women recovering from the trauma of partner violence improves when the healing process integrates elder-led circles and other cultural elements.

Improving health care with culture

The study tested the effectiveness of a unique program, known as Reclaiming our Spirits, that focused on nurses working individually with women over the course of six to eight months, and weekly circles or group activities led by an elder.

The activities included sharing personal stories and aspects of Indigenous culture through ceremonies, cultural teachings and traditional crafts.

The approach was created in collaboration with Indigenous elders and advisers.

Self-empowerment through community support

Colleen Varcoe, a professor of nursing at UBC, said: “At the end of the program, the women reported significantly fewer symptoms of trauma and depression and a better quality of life compared with how they felt in the beginning,”

“Participants also experienced a greater sense of self-empowerment and felt more supported by their family and community.”

These effects persisted at least six months later, Varcoe added.

Healing violence and discrimination

Participants included 152 Indigenous women from different nations and language groups who were living in Vancouver and Surrey, Canada.

Most had survived childhood abuse in a residential school, in addition to partner violence; all were living on incomes much lower than the Canadian average and faced racism and other forms of discrimination on a regular basis.

Moreover, the study highlights the importance of a holistic approach towards healing for Indigenous survivors of intimate partner violence.

“For these women, treatments can be much more effective if they integrate Indigenous ways of knowing and being, such as sharing culture through storytelling, teachings and ceremonies,” explained Roberta Price, an elder from the Coast Salish Snuneymuxw and Cowichan Nations.

“Indigenous women in Canada experience high rates of violence”

This health promotion program, iHEAL, was developed by the researchers a few years ago, and is currently being tested in three provinces to see if it is effective for women in all settings, including for Indigenous women.

“Indigenous women in Canada experience high rates of violence, including from their partners, and yet there are few evidence-based interventions designed specifically for them.” concludes Varcoe.

“Our hope is that with iHEAL, we can contribute to turning the situation around.”

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