Anaya's comments on sexual health and reproductive rights of indigenous peoples
The Special Rapporteur James Anaya presented his comments during the International Expert Group Meeting held in New York last week. Anaya opened the conference outlining the barriers faced by indigenous peoples in regard to the realization of their right to health, including inadequate access to health services, culturally inappropriate provision of health services and contamination of their lands and natural resources.
Concerning access to health, Anaya noted that health services are not always provided in culturally appropriate ways."Indigenous representatives have informed me that many health-care professionals do not speak or understand the local languages, which can frustrate the delivery of basic services and result in improper diagnose". Anaya illustrated this situation with a case: “I was told by State health officials that traditional midwives are not allowed to accompany indigenous women during births in health clinics”. At the same time, he highlighted that indigenous people have expressed a strong desire to access educational opportunities that would prepare them for professional health care positions to help close the health service gap resulting from cultural disconnects. Anaya also linked sexual and reproductive problems with the impacts of extractive industries, particularly on the health conditions of women. He pointed out that women living in communities near oil, gas and mining operations are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, which are often introduced by a rapid increase of extractive workers in indigenous areas. In this sense, indigenous women have reported that the influx of workers in their communities also led to increased incidents of sexual harassment and violence, including rape and assault. “In one case I intervened, indigenous girls walking to school were sexually assaulted by workers operating in a concession granted by the government for the extraction of forest resources in the indigenous peoples’ traditional territory ," he narrated. “The key to promoting indigenous peoples' health are concurrent efforts to enhance indigenous self-determination and control over lands and resources”, the Special Rapporteur concluded.