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,
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
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.”