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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

July 10, 2003

Cross-cultural study
involves three countries


Participants in a multi-cultural study on women's experience of reproductive health in the family.
Photo by Chris Hammond
Back (L-R): Claudie Gosselin, International Development Research Centre; Drs. Natalie Beausoleil, Phyllis Artiss and Marilyn Porter of Memorial; Dr. Tahera Aftab, Gettysburg College. Front (L-R): Dr. Zareen Ilyas, Pakistan; Dr. Anita Rahman, Indonesia; Dr. Shakila Rehman, Pakistan; and Dr. Kristi Poerwandari, Indonesia.

The first two weeks of June were exceptionally busy for the partners in a multi-country study on women’s experience of reproductive health in the family. Three faculty members at Memorial hosted researchers from Women’s Studies programs at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta and the University of Karachi in Pakistan as well as a guest from Gettysburg College in the U.S. Public meetings, workshops, media interviews and daily meetings about the project were crammed into the visit.

It was the second time the group has met to work on the project. It was funded initially by a strategic grant of $155,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and recently received further funding of $194,000 from the International Development Research Council of Canada. At Memorial the principal investigator is Dr. Marilyn Porter, Sociology, working with Dr. Natalie Beausoleil, Community Health, and Dr. Phyllis Artiss, recently retired from English.

The project will adopt a comparative life story approach, with researchers in the three countries doing in-depth multi-generational interview with women in six to 10 families.

The focus is on barriers to women’s health in the Islamic cultures of Pakistan and in Indonesia, and comparing these barriers to ones experienced by women living in Newfoundland. “Reproductive health is a crucial factor in what women in most cultures value, and what their cultures value in women,” explained Dr. Porter. “The inequalities that women face, their oppression and lack of choice are closely linked to issues of pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, selection of sexual partner(s), contraception, abortion, infertility, menopause, sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, and others.”

Dr. Artiss said that the focus of the program developed at the first meeting in Indonesia three years ago. “We are looking at women’s experiences in the context of family and religion, in two Islamic cultures and our own culture.”

Dr. Beausoleil was brought into the project during the past year because of her experience and expertise in health. “We plan to compile the life stories of three generations of women in a small number of families. Vicki Hallett, a graduate student in Memorial’s master of women’s studies program, will be helping on the project, but it is likely the three of us will do the interviews during the next year. We want to look at the obstacles in women’s lives, women’s status in society, and the control of their bodies.”

During the visit, a public meeting on Women and Islam was held featuring speakers Dr. Anita Rahman, a specialist in women and religion at the University of Indonesia and Dr. Tahera Aftab, a specialist in women’s history at Gettysburgh College.

Dr. Kristi Poerwandari of the University of Indonesia was pleased with the progress the group made during their visit. “We’ve done our baseline research in interviews and following this meeting we will be able to go further and develop research questions.”

Dr. Shakila Rehman of the University of Karachi agreed that the meeting at Memorial was critical to guiding the rest of the project. “What we are doing in this study is completely new, it’s intergenerational and we hope to develop guidelines for the government as a result of our findings.”




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Next issue: July 24, 2003

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