Intimate Stories: Aboriginal Women’s Lived Experiences of Health Services in Northern British Columbia and the Potential of Creative Arts to Raise Awareness About HPV, Cervical Cancer, and Screening

// // Posted in Vol 8 Issue 1

By Virginia L. Russell, BSc (hons), MSc[1] and Sarah de Leeuw, BFA, MA, PhD[2]

Many Aboriginal people face significant barriers in accessing health services, including screening for cervical cancer. These can be anything from geographical isolation, to lack of knowledge about screening, to feelings of discomfort about the medical system. The authors of this paper sought to identify what some of those barriers are for Aboriginal women living in northern British Columbia, using qualitative research methods that allowed the women themselves to tell their stories. Many participants came from underserved and marginalized backgrounds, often with a history of victimization. They completed questionnaires exploring their experiences in cervical cancer screening as well as gauging their knowledge about HPV and its connection to cervical cancer. Several women also took part in monthly arts-focused workshops designed to further identify the challenges they face and raise their awareness about HPV. Women in the study initially showed a somewhat low awareness about HPV and cervical cancer (although higher levels of formal education were associated with increased knowledge about HPV), but this improved after they took part in the arts-based workshops. Experiences of gendered victimization, feelings of disempowerment, and difficult life circumstances emerged as the main barriers to cervical cancer screening for the women in the study. Sensitivity from health care providers, culturally appropriate education, and assistance in childcare and transportation were all identified as ways to increase cervical cancer screening among Aboriginal women.

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[1] Graduate of the Community Health Sciences Program, University of Northern British Columbia, corresponding author:, 3333 University Way, Prince George, B.C.V2N 4Z9 Phone: (250) 981-4405

[2] Assistant Professor at the Northern Medical Program, University of Northern British Columbia. Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia.

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