The Intersecting Risks of Violence and HIV for Rural Aboriginal Women in a Neo-Colonial Canadian Context

  • Colleen Varcoe Associate Professor, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia
  • Sheila Dick Counsellor/Family Support Worker, Canim Lake Band, Tsq’escenemc Nation
Keywords: Violence against women, HIV, rural health, colonialism, gender, rural living, poverty, racism, Aboriginal women


An ethnographic study looking at the intersecting risks of violence and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for rural women shows that the neo-colonial and racist context of Canadian society creates particular challenges for Aboriginal women. This article focuses on the experiences of the Aboriginal women who took part in the study. These women’s experiences of violence occurred within a rural context of poverty and declining economic resources, and within a historical context of colonial abuses and cultural disruptions. Consequently, the women’s lives were often characterized by disconnection from family and community, making them vulnerable to further violence and exploitation. Social support programs in this rural setting were limited and access was sometimes problematic. Understanding how the intersecting dynamics of gender, rural living, poverty, racism, and colonialism create risk for Aboriginal women provides a basis for developing policies that aim to strengthen the well-being of women, particularly their economic well being. It also highlights the need for an anti-racist agenda within the social service and health care sectors and at all levels of government.