Posted by Lotte Roosendaal on November 30, 2017 at 9:10 am
On October 19 2017, Share-Net’s working group ‘Linking Research, Policy and Practice’ organized the 6th Annual meeting for students and policymakers and practitioners. This working group is chaired by Billie de Haas (University of Groningen). This meeting was organized in close collaboration with the Oxfam Novib Academy, who kindly opened up her beautiful historic building at the Mauritskade in The Hague.
During the meeting, 14 students from various universities throughout the Netherlands presented the findings of their Master thesis research in the field of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). The afternoon was concluded with a speed dating session where students and policymakers and practitioners could meet and explore future research opportunities and needs in the field of SRHR.
The aim of this meeting was to bring together students who have finalized or will start their Master research in the field of SRHR, and researchers, practitioners and policy makers working in the field of SRHR. By doing this, Share-Net aims to stimulate research-informed policy and practice.
Summaries including key recommendations for policy and practice from the sessions in which the students presented their findings are given below. The links to the students’ abstracts and presentations are enclosed on the last page of this report.
Session 1A: The religious and socio-cultural context of SRHR
The first parallel session was chaired by Mieke Vogels (Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Four students presented their research: Lisa Juanola van Keizerswaard, Nikki Jasmijn Haze, Lysanne Maria Vergroesen and Elizabeth Mudzimu.
In this session, the various religious and socio-cultural aspects of SRHR were highlighted, particularly in relation to early marriage. The role and meaning of religion is very context specific, which is something that should be taken into account in programme development. The dominance of secularism is currently forming a limitation to inclusive development aid. Instead, the researchers recommend to pay more attention to local/indigenous beliefs and discourses. Another aspect of the local context can be the view on issues such as early marriage where cultural values, future perspectives of the girl and local age boundaries play an essential role. The agency of girls, inclusive education programmes in which both married and unmarried girls are targeted, the role of teachers, and the potential role of economic incentives were mentioned as key elements that should be taken up in programs that address early marriage.
In conclusion, taking the local context into account is key to addressing sensitive SRHR issues, as this can contribute to bottom-up solutions. We have to take into account the voice of those we study and develop interventions for, and ensure that we look at our own position, our own views and identify how this differs from the local context in which we work.
Session 1B: Young people’s access to SRHR information
This parallel session was chaired by Doortje Braeken (independent consultant). The following students presented their master thesis: Anastasia Pirvu, Katy Elliott, Charlotte Peters, Marlies Klinkenberg.
In this session, the access that young people have to SRHR information was discussed. Even though youth have potentially broad access to SRHR information, these sources of information are often little used or conveying messages that focus on fear and problems related to SRHR. For example, ICT, radio and mobile phones could be used for SRHR information, but is this the best source of information? And which messages appeal to the youth, and by whom should these messages be given? What should be the role of parents and teachers? Often, messages are formulated in negative and restrictive ways, but what if you focus on the positive side, on a pleasure-based approach that links to the right to a satisfying sex life?
In addition, it was discussed that many small-scale initiatives are working on SRHR and youth. However, collaboration between the different actors, such as NGOs, youth, parents and others, is often lacking. It is strongly recommended to find ways to collaborate, so that messages and training programs can be contextualized, for example by involving youth in the development of programs that target their peers.
Session 2A: Accessing SRHR services
This session was chaired by Nicolette Matthijsen (Oxfam Novib) and presentations were given by Mohamed Abdelwahab, Astrid Dral and Jara Schmidt.
This session focused on the access to SRHR services. The presentations addressed three different groups: Arab refugee women in the Netherlands, men and their involvement in family planning in Malawi, and migrants living in the Surinamese goldfields. Although three seemingly different groups of people, the similarities are striking. First of all, language can form a major barrier to SRHR services, particularly for immigrant populations who don’t speak the local language. Second, the positionality of each of these groups forms an interesting factor. The extent to which these groups are actively involved in policy-making with regards to the issue at hand, and how responsible they feel in taking action themselves plays a large role in accessing SRHR-services as well.
Various recommendations to improve access were suggested. On the one hand, health workers can be trained on how to cope with cultural differences and language barriers. On the other hand, more structural factors such as the lack of physical access to services and financial means, limited health insurance and cultural factors can form significant barriers to SRHR services. It was recommended to reinstate funding for translational services (in the case of the Netherlands), to seek collaboration between different stakeholders and exchange lessons learned, to improve legislation regarding health insurance and involve these vulnerable groups in national programming.
Session 2B: Testing, stigma and key populations
This session was chaired by Tomas Chang Pico. Presentations were held by Claire Thomson, Hannah Kador and Anna Devereux.
The focus during this session was on key populations and stigma around abortion in Nepal, men having sex with men (MSM) in the Netherlands and stigma around sex-workers in South Africa. First of all, it was clear that doing research among key populations is a challenge. Participants may be difficult to find, as an outsider you might be considered an intruder, and time-constrictions may limit the opportunities to build rapport with participants, which is necessary for more open discussions about sensitive topics.
A major topic in this session was self-testing: should it be promoted and, if so, under which conditions? It was found that self-tests are mostly valuable if people who test positive are able to access follow-up care. In addition, if pre-test counseling is necessary for ensuring that results are followed up, what are the advantages of self-testing? And if self-tests are promoted, to what extent does that imply that STIs should be kept secret and reinforce stigma around this topic? These questions deserve further research.
In each presentation, the availability of user-friendly services was emphasized. Only if services are user-friendly, one can begin to cross the barrier of stigma. What this should entail considering self-testing, the use of social media, anonymity and convenience or specially designed packages for tests and medication, is to be determined for each unique context.
During the plenary discussion, led by Wendy Harcourt (International Institute of Social Studies), the chairs of each session provided a short summary of the topics that have been discussed during their session. As Wendy summarized, a few key themes emerged:
What is your role as a researcher?
It is crucial to reflect on your position as a researcher or practitioner. You are entering a new community, a new context. The importance of this unique context cannot be underestimated. Moreover, your ‘outsider-position’ might give you a struggle to reach your participants when working with sensitive topics such as abortion, early marriage or gender inequality. Student researchers could team up with local researchers, NGOs and other stakeholders who might help them gain access to their study population. In addition, Universities and knowledge institutes could be more aware of potential difficulties and barriers when studying other contexts and better prepare their students for doing this kind of research.
How to ensure that research findings are picked up and used by practitioners?
Students expressed the feeling that research findings are not always followed up on by practitioners and policymakers, while their results are very interesting and may contribute to actual change. This is particularly the case when students did research independently from practitioners in the field. The key question that emerged throughout each session was: what do you do with the research results and recommendations? In addition to reporting the findings back to the university or knowledge institute, it is also useful to share research findings with local communities and authorities, as well as alliances that work on the topic.
Moreover, working in alliance with NGOs or their local partners could increase the societal relevance of findings and with that the chances that research findings might actually be used. How such alliances can be formed and how to ensure meaningful collaboration between students and NGOs is extensively described in the practical guide for successful student-NGO collaborations (see link below). As shown in this guide, valuable partnerships can be realized when both students and NGOs make an effort.
The Role of Share-Net
All the items discussed above are key to what Share-Net does. Through this meeting and products such as the SRHR knowledge fact sheet and guide for student-NGO collaborations, Share-Net aims to connect students, policy-makers and practitioners and enhance their collaboration. In the light of the above, the participants suggested to start an action group in which students and NGOs can think of how student research findings can be used and how they can be matched to the input that NGOs and other practitioners need for they daily work. Share-Net is already facilitating a Young Investigators NGO Tour, which could provide a good format for the student action group. The NGO Tour is an initiative that aims to offer a two-way platform for young investigators to disseminate their work, as well as for NGO practitioners to share their practices, and then to jointly provide constructive feedback and discuss strategies to strengthen the link between research, policy and practice.
After the plenary session, several organisations and students participated in the speed dating session. In addition, an SRHR knowledge factsheet was shared indicating NGOs’ relevant research topics, research populations, type of research findings and opportunities for internships.
During this session students, policymakers and practitioners got the chance to meet each other and to explore possible opportunities for future student research. What topics and what kind of research findings are relevant to NGOs? How can students make sure that their future research matches the need of NGOs? Lively conversations were held at each table and long after the official program had ended participants were still into deep conversation. Contact details and information folders were exchanged and finally people were gently pushed towards the exit. Let’s put research into practice!
The religious and sociocultural context of SRHR
Young people’s access to SRHR information
Accessing SRHR services
Testing, stigma and key populations