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Women’s Health and Empowerment COE Awards $25,000 in Fellowship Funding

The Women's Health and Empowerment Center of Expertise has awarded $25,000 to graduate and professional level students across different disciplines to conduct research related to women’s health and empowerment.

The review committee selected 7 fellows from UCSF/UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz. The committee sought proposals specifically investigating the intersection and interrelated nature of women’s health and women’s empowerment. Awards ranged between $2,000 - 5,000, depending on needs for the particular project. Each student will conduct their research during the summer/fall 2012 then present their findings to the COE later in the year.

Student: Annie Chang, UC Berkeley/UCSF

Title: Qualitative Analysis of the Intersection of HIV and Socioeconomic Factors Impacting Community Health on Mfangano Island, Kenya

Bio: Thorough examination of the complex, dynamic relationships between health and socioeconomic determinants are needed to improve health among the world's marginalized and vulnerable communities facing both existing and evolving global inequities. Annie is a second-year MD/MS candidate in the Joint Medical Program with the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco. Previously, her defining work in public health has been in the area of minority health, and her research study would integrate her experience in community based qualitative research, culturally & linguistically competent care, and civic & community engagement.

Project: In sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of the people living with HIV are women, and they face the triple threat of gender inequity, poverty, and HIV/AIDS. For her Women's Health and Empowerment Research Project, Annie’s qualitative study is exploratory and hypothesis generating, and aims to elicit community perceptions of the intersection of HIV and socioeconomic factors impacting health among rural, remote communities of Mfangano Island, Kenya. The methodological approach is grounded theory involving principles of community based participatory research. The research process would serve as a means to generate theory as well as to engage participants in creating awareness and understanding of the socioeconomic determinants that impact community health. Health and empowerment are inextricably related - women can contribute as equal partners in community based knowledge generation, work to heighten the role and visibility of women in their community, and ensure equitable representation in the research process.

Student: Anjali Dutt, UC Santa Cruz

Title: The Impact of Structural Changes on Women’s Health and Empowerment Among Maasai Women in Tanzania

Bio: Anjali Dutt is a third year doctoral student studying social psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She received her bachelor’s degree from The College of New Jersey where she studied psychology and international relations. Her research focuses on ways in which the rights of marginalized individuals are actualized, and is particularly interested in methodologies that center the voices and affirm the capabilities of those who are marginalized. She is also interested in exploring how a culture of neoliberalism is detrimental to advancing human rights and methods that challenge individualistic thinking.

Project: Violence against women is a severe societal problem affecting millions of women around the globe. Throughout East Africa, and in Tanzania in particular, domestic violence is widespread. Rates are especially alarming in rural areas, where culturally sanctioned violence, combined with low levels of formal education, leave women in highly susceptible positions with little knowledge of their legal rights. This project explores how structural changes within communities in rural Tanzania impact women’s experiences in their marital relationships specifically examining how women’s ownership of land and participation in a grassroots women’s organization facilitates women’s empowerment, reduces experiences with domestic violence, and improves psychological welling. During the summer Anjali will analyze data that was collected by her advisor, Shelly Grabe, soon after such programs were implemented in four communities in Tanzania. They plan to subsequently return to the communities and, using surveys and interviews, examine what changes have occurred three years into the programs’ implementation.

Student: Martha Montgomery, UC Berkeley/UCSF

Title: Gender, Power and Injecting Risk for Young Women Injection Drug Users

Bio: Martha Montgomery is a third year Program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved (PRIME-US) medical and a master’s degree student in the UC Berkeley - UC San Francisco Joint Medical Program (JMP). She has 13 years of experience working with homeless youth and young injection drug users (IDU) in the San Francisco Bay Area in a variety of capacities, including both direct service and research work. Over the past few years she has developed a particular focus on the health risks and needs of young women IDU, with an emphasis on the impact of gender inequality and on power dynamics within sexual and injecting partnerships. Her past experiences and future goals have a strong synergy with the mission of the Women’s Health and Empowerment Center of Expertise.

Project: Because of the uniquely combined sexual and injecting risk profile for young women IDU, power dynamics within the sexual and injecting relationships of young women IDU are likely to be an important determinant of risk for viral infection, in particular HIV and HCV. First, using baseline interview data from a multidisciplinary epidemiologic study of young (under 30) IDU in San Francisco, Martha will conduct an analysis of the associations between sexual relationship power, and injection and sexual risk behavior for HIV and HCV. Second, because power dynamics may play a role in the nonsexual injecting partnerships of young women IDU, she will collaborate with the study team on early psychosocial scale development in order to develop a tool to assess the impact of self-perceived power in young women IDUs’ nonsexual injecting partnerships on injecting risk behavior for viral infection. This project will add to the epidemiologic understanding of how gender-based social and structural inequalities affect HIV/HCV risk for young female IDU, and will contribute to the development of new ways of assessing power in the context of young women’s partnerships in general.

Student: Maryani Palupy Rasidjan, UC Berkeley/UCSF

Title: Revitalizing the Ideal Family: Indonesia's Family Planning Program and Reproductive Health Policy and Practice in Papua

Bio: Maryani Palupy Rasidjan is a doctoral student in Medical Anthropology in the UC San Francisco/UC Berkeley joint program. In 2005 and, again, in 2011 she has conducted research on women's reproductive health rights and access to birth control education and biotechnology in Bali and Java, Indonesia. She is interested in studying the intersections of women's reproductive health rights, medical governance, postcoloniality and race.

Project: This research will explore the ways in which Indonesia's family planning program and current revitalization campaign privileges an Indonesian family ideal that may at times ignore or malign the multiplicity of its ethnic and racial minorities and their specific health needs. This project will explore questions of identity embedded in Indonesia's family planning program. Using ethnographic methods this project aims to investigate how Indonesia's family planning program and current USAID rhetoric in its Country Assistance Strategy for 2009-2013 construct ideals around women's health and empowerment that may obfuscate the day-to-day desires, needs and fears of the women they target in Papua, Indonesia. How might rhetoric and practices around women's health and empowerment vis-à-vis the policies of Indonesia's Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Child Welfare have the counter effects of disempowering already marginal West Papuan women in Indonesia? How might the construction of West Papuan identity as racialized, indigenized or marked by some other essentialization as different from dominant Javanese identity potentially threaten West Papuan women's overall health and social status? Answering such questions will have the potential to elucidate gaps, misconceptions and mistranslations of reproductive health policy into practice.

Student: Elena Shih, UCLA

Title: Health and Rights at the Margins: Storytelling the Links Between Human Trafficking and HIV/AIDS Amongst Jing Po Ethnicity Women in Ruili City, China

Bio: Elena Shih is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at UCLA where her dissertation explores human trafficking movements in China and Thailand. Her exposure to human trafficking began as an undergraduate at Pomona College, where she served as a legal intake counselor for T-Visa petitioners at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study Chinese counter-trafficking policy and responses at the Beijing University Center for Women's Law Studies and Legal Aid. During her time in China, she has also worked in Chinese contemporary art, at the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking and co-founded a community arts organization in Ruili City, Yunnan Province on the China-Myanmar border. This organization provides no-cost public art education to ethnic minority Chinese and Burmese youth affected by drug trafficking, HIV/AIDS and outward migration.

Project: This project investigates the links between human trafficking and HIV/AIDS vulnerability amongst Jing Po ethnicity women living on the China-Myanmar border asking: How does ethnic and political disenfranchisement make women susceptible to both HIV and human trafficking? Do state led HIV/AIDS stigma and fear campaigns make women more or less vulnerable to human trafficking? The Jingpo community is a relevant group of study, because as an ethnic group, their communities straddle the national borders between China and Myanmar, and many are considered stateless people which renders them outside the purview of state intervention campaigns and research. Working through a local community arts organization (BorderStatements Collective), Elena will conduct oral and visual storytelling workshops with Jing Po women ages 16 and older. She hopes to collect narratives addressing how HIV/AIDS and human trafficking intersect in their lives.

Student: Rosalynn Adeline Vega, UC Berkeley/UCSF

Title: Mechanisms through which women’s health continues to be impeded by grinding poverty; limited access to educational and economic opportunities; discriminatory laws dictating how, where, and with whom poor, indigenous women give birth and access reproductive health services; male dominance; and ongoing prejudice against indigenous peoples in Veracruz, Mexico

Bio: Rosalynn is a doctoral candidate in the Joint UC Berkeley/UCSF PhD Program in Medical Anthropology. She completed her BA in Anthropology at Brown University, after serving two years as Class Representative in the Program for Liberal Medical Education. Her topical interests are cultural anthropology, medical anthropology, gender, reproduction, poverty, human rights, indigeneity, transnationalism, knowledge production and circulation. Her regional interest is Latin America, with an emphasis on “Greater Mexico.” She has extensive experience performing fieldwork among indigenous (Tlapaneco, Mixteco, and Nahau) populations in Mexico, and has presented her work on multiple occasions to Mexican policy-makers at the state and federal levels. Rosalynn is of mixed Chinese and Mexican descent and is fluent in both Spanish and Chinese.

Project: This exploratory research investigates the mechanisms through which women’s health continues to be impeded by grinding poverty; limited access to educational and economic opportunities; discriminatory laws dictating how, where, and with whom poor, indigenous women give birth and access reproductive health services; male dominance; and ongoing prejudice against indigenous peoples in the Nahua High Mountains of Veracruz. It is likely that restricted access to vital women’s health services and health information, along with insufficient state accountability, contribute to poor birth outcomes and persistent maternal and infant mortality in the region. To what types of reproductive health information do Nahua women have access, and to what degree does this information serve their best interests? In a region where most husbands travel for months at a time to sell their handcrafted furniture, how common are sexually transmitted diseases, and how can they be prevented? Also, how does gender inequality, both within the household structure and within the biomedical institution, lead to the violation of women’s rights with respect to sexual and reproductive health? How common is the use of force and coercion with respect to female contraceptives? Who are the multiple actors involved in the coercion, and what type of violence (domestic, structural, etc.) does this coercion represent? This research examines the complex ways in which poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, racial discrimination, and coercive government practices with respect to women’s reproductive health interact to the detriment of women’s well-being.

Student: Dilara Yarbrough, UC San Diego

Title: From Behavioral Health to Social Change: Narratives of Health and Collective Action Among Sex Workers in Istanbul and San Francisco

Bio: Dilara Yarbrough is a 3rd year PhD student in sociology at UC San Diego. Her research focuses on the relationship between individual-level health care strategies and collective empowerment for social change. Her interest in sex worker health and empowerment grew out of previous experience as a direct service provider for HIV-positive homeless young adults, many of whom worked in the sex sector.

Project: Dilara’s project explores the relationship between discourses of health and collective action in high and low-stigma contexts by comparing the ways in which sex worker activists at organizations in Istanbul and San Francisco talk about healthcare experiences and rights. Recent studies have found that HIV/STI prevention interventions focusing narrowly on behavior may inadvertently reinforce anti-sex worker stigma, but there is inadequate understanding of the ways in which narratives about health facilitate or hinder collective action. Dilara’s study will investigate relationships between sex workers’ and medical providers’ narratives of personal responsibility and group rights. Her study aims to identify best practices for discussing health in ways that empower women working in the sex sector.