Research struggles

There are a lot of aspects of research that I struggle with, mainly because of my research interests. I’m interested in sexual violence in Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC, I want to know if the horrific history and legacy of Belgian colonial rule have had an impact in domestic sexual relations and if so, how, and why, I want to know where development funding is going and what kind of impact it’s having, I want to know if development funding could be better directed (most always it can be, but how and under what kind of program), I want to know women and men’s experiences of sexual assault either through conflict or not. But I struggle with this because I’m not part of the culture. While my research isn’t aiming to tell anyone to change anything (apart from maybe development agendas) and is instead aiming to understand what is happening and why, I worry that this could be misconstrued, that I will be perceived as doing what so many people have done before and just contribute to the continued violence of colonialism. So I’m stuck in this bubble, struggling with myself on whether this kind of research would be a good contribution to knowledge, or whether it’s ideological and would be better done by someone else. 

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In the swing of things

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I wanted to get back in the swing of things.

Part of me views the past year almost as a break from the academic life because I was very much removed from it – living in Vietnam and working at SRD gave me the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate where I was and where I want to be and I found that I’m very happy with where I am and how things are going.  Vietnam has also taught me to learn how to go with the flow and take things as they come rather than try to control my surroundings which has proven quite useful.

Last week I made the big move to Toronto and started getting everything together for my Masters program and to work as a Teaching Assistant. So far I’ve found that the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo are quite different (at least in my experience), my undergraduate degree offered the benefit of really small classes and I found that I was part of an absolutely incredible group of classmates and friends. Arriving at UofT, I’ve found that a lot of the class sizes are larger, the interests of people within my program are quite varied as are everyone’s backgrounds, so its become interesting to get to know my classmates and to see where I fit in within the group.

I came into the MA program wanting to do a thesis project rather than a research paper, but following conversations with my advisor, it seems that the research paper option is more highly recommended as it provides more experience and exposure with different professors. So it looks like that is what I will be doing. I’m still in the middle of choosing courses as it’s really difficult to get into courses from other faculties so I still have some hoops to jump through.

I’ve also found that my knowledge in certain areas seems to be lacking, so I’m trying to put together a reading list of different books and articles related to my interests and to research methods in general that will help me better understand navigate through the assigned readings for class.

Anyway, in the next while you can expect me to continue to comment on current events and news that I find fascinating and relevant as well as for me to brainstorm on some of the information and readings that I come across as I continue my studies.

If you have any suggestions for readings please feel free to mention them in the comments section, I’d love to discuss them with you.

 

Karen’s Foolproof Research Proposal Template

this will be extremely useful to myself and anyone else looking at research degrees..

Project Graduate School

Unveiled here:  Karen’s Famous and Foolproof Research Proposal Template.

This Research Proposal Template has won hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money for multiple graduate students and scholars in the social sciences and humanities over the past 15 years.

You may share, but please credit Dr. Karen Kelsky of the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Oregon (see also at The Professor Is In, http://www.theprofessorisin.com).

Let’s walk through this step by step.

The first step is to identify what large general topic of wide interest that your specific project relates to.  These are topics that anyone, including your grandmother or someone sitting next to you on a plane, would say, “oh, yes, that’s an important topic.”  Examples include:  immigration, sustainable energy, changes in the family, curing cancer, new social technologies, environmental degradation, global warming, etc. Until you can identify a really broadly interesting theme that your…

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Contraception is a Human Right

We have found that there are no mental health consequences of abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. There are other interesting findings: even later abortion is safer than childbirth and women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive an abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.

That is a quote from the researchers who are two years in to a five year study abortion – specifically the first scientific study which looks at what happens to women who have been denied abortions. This study has been following 956 women who sought abortions, 182 of which were denied. This study takes place in the USA but I believe much of the information can be extrapolated to other nations.

I find it fascinating that less than halfway into the study researchers are already able to debunk many of the common reasons why women are denied abortions and protestors push for pro-life national agendas. Firstly, abortion does not cause mental illness. Secondly, abortion does not cause drug use. Particularly when combined with the emotional distress of carrying an unwanted child to term. In fact, the study found that giving birth to an unwanted child caused more physical damage than an abortion: “There were no severe complications after abortion; after birth complications included seizure, fractured pelvis, infection and hemorrhage. We find no differences in chronic health conditions at 1 week or one year after seeking abortion.”

What I also found interesting was that only 11% of those who were denied abortions put the child up for adoption and that there are higher rates of putting children up for adoption among those with a history of drug abuse. While there are plenty of people who desperately want to adopt children, particularly from within their home country, adoption is still looked down upon. Many people are discriminated against if they put their child up for adoption, there is a stigma associated with this that makes many people choose to keep the child.

Also notable is that this week the United Nations declared contraception to be a human right. About time, right? Family Planning is universally acknowledged to be critical for development; spacing children apart by a minimum of 2 years improves their health, developmental capacity, brain function, in-utero nutrition, and improves the health of the mother and ease of her delivery. Additionally, 82% of unwanted pregnancies could be avoided simply by increasing access to information and services regarding contraception. Who needs access? Women and adolescents as

Thai Minority Women in Dien Bien, Vietnam discussing the importance of family planning and maternal health (November 8-9, 2012)

those are the target groups and the people who need to be able to have control and power over decisions regarding their own bodies. This is a huge step forward for international development and a wake-up call for so called ‘developed’ nations to improve the dissemination of information and services regarding contraception. It also should indicate a need to not discriminate against such services on the basis of religion, funding, or personal beliefs.

Take a step forward with the United Nations and protect the rights and freedoms of people around the world by supporting family planning, improving access to contraception information and services, reducing the stigma surrounding adoption and abortion, and ensuring that women people are never denied the ability to live out their basic rights.

Something I promised I would never do

You heard it. I’m going to do something I promised would never happen (but at this current time do not understand why I was so against it).

I’m going to go for a research degree. When thinking of grad school while still in school, it makes sense to avoid writing papers when all you do in your spare time is write papers that you may or may not be interested in. But in the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to choose the topics of more of my research papers and this enabled me to understand my research interests. I’ve also found that during this internship I miss doing research, I miss writing, I miss essays and papers and research papers. Enough so that I’m applying to research degrees for grad school.

I’m looking at programs that allow me to overlay studies in differing geographical regions with issues pertaining to women’s experiences. This is proving to be quite difficult. But I believe I have found two Geography programs that either have specializations in gender or have supervisors with extensive experience in gender.

This also means that I have to develop my research interests. This summer I had the opportunity to write a paper on how sexual assault constitutes an act of genocide using the current conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m still interested in this, and would like to explore it further, but may look at other case studies and situations that have had internationally recognized genocides or instances where genocide is not ‘officially occuring’ but sexual violence/assaults against members of the population is rampant (sexual assault against women and men). I’m also interested in the ways in which the forced transmission of HIV is used as a weapon of war.

Any ideas or suggested reading material would be great. Tell me what you think, is this a good program idea? What were your experiences with doing a research degree (or why did you choose not to do one)? Any suggestions for choosing a research area?

What is governance?

I was at a workshop this morning that made me question my perspective. Participants kept discussing what governance was and asking what this word means, where did it come from, how is it different from management, etc. and it made me question what I knew about governance.

Growing up in Canada and always being interested in international development and human rights in general, I had never really questioned what governance was, I just accepted it. Governance was this word that was inherently good; it was this important thing to achieve. Now I find myself questioning what it means and whether using ideals like governance is positive or negative.

This meeting discussed the history of governance, how it emerged as a Western Ideology roughly 300 years ago, and how organizations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund popularized it in the mid 1990s. It discussed that because of this, governance may not be suitable for countries like Vietnam, or other eastern nations that do not share Western roots or ideology. Does this mean governance is bad?

The participants had no real understanding of the ‘governance’ I grew up understanding, instead many people simply believe that governance is equal to management and is a top down approach, which is understandable as it was popularized by some of the largest international organizations. They believe governance to be a method of enforcement rather than a method of participation and a tool to increase donor funds.

This is a huge failure on the part of international development; governance is intended to involve everyone, to ask questions, to look at the needs of the most vulnerable, and to give every citizen a voice. It is not in the scope of governance to impose beliefs, ideologies, or methods on others, governance is supposed to let people come to their own conclusions and made independent decisions on their actions while taking into account the effects it will have on others. It goes against the very nature of governance to ‘enforce’ governance.

Anyway, this meeting made me curious and made me question a lot of what I grew up accepting, I hope it encourages you to think critically about some of the theories and ideologies you know of.

I will be doing more research on this whole governance dilemma and will get back to you but in the mean time share your perspectives on these questions: What is governance? What is good governance?

Abstract – Genocide: Perpetrated through Sexual Violence

I’ve recently finished a paper which examined the ways in which sexual violence can constitute acts of genocide and it’s a paper I’d like to continue to develop with additional research and additional case studies to better represent a variety of geographical locations. For the meantime, I thought I would share my abstract and once the mark from class becomes official I will share the rest of the paper as well.

Genocide and sexual violence are relatively new topics in the realm of international humanitarian law, yet their interconnectivity has caused some of the worst humanitarian crisis from the twentieth century into the present time. In understanding the ways in which specific instances of sexual violence have contributed to and constituted acts of genocide it can be argued that, in context, sexual violence can be a means and act of genocide. Through analysis of secondary sources and government reports this paper will examine the experiences of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to demonstrate the ways in which sexual violence has been used as a tool of genocide.