Women’s Rights Are Human Rights: International Perspectives on Women’s Health
Drs. Arlene Calvo and Cheryl Vamos (Community and Family Health) offered their 2nd annual International Perspectives on Women’s Health course this summer. The course provided an overview of international perspectives on women’s health across the lifespan, with a special emphasis on human rights. Seventeen master’s and doctoral students gained a greater awareness and appreciation of the historical, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental factors influencing pertinent public health issues that women face globally.
The alternative format course engaged students first online with a mixture of lectures and speakers, videos, readings, group discussions, individual assignments, and group projects. Upon completion of the online class modules, students traveled to Panama for an applied one-week field study. A range of topics affecting women’s health across the lifecourse were discussed online and observed during the Panama site visits, including but not limited to the following:
- Gender preference (e.g., sex selective abortion; neglect);
- Female genital mutilation;
- Education and nutrition;
- Early childbearing and marriage;
- Domestic violence;
- Sexual and reproductive health (e.g., access to family planning; HIV/AIDS);
- Maternal mortality;
- Women and globalization (e.g., sex trafficking);
- Chronic diseases;
- Aging in a man’s world.
During the field study, students first explored the local areas around Panama City on a bus and walking tour and participated in an introductory lecture from Dr. Calvo that provided students with an overview of health in Panama from a historical, structural and socio-cultural view. Students experienced the Panamanian health system at different levels by visiting a variety of clinics to understand the challenges for women and children. Guest lectures from local and international organizations highlighted public health issues affecting women, such as reproductive health and education, as well as specific vulnerable populations such as indigenous groups and sex workers. Toward the end of the trip, the students presented their group projects at the Gorgas Memorial Institute Regional Health Training Center, where they also had a chance to interact with Public Health students from the University of Southern California.
Site visits and presentations in Panama included:
- Instituto Nacional de la Mujer (National Institute of Women)
- Santa Ana Health Center (Community health clinic serving sex workers)
- APLAFA (Panamanian Association for Family Planning)
- PROBIDSIDA (HIV/AIDS non-profit agency)
- The maternity ward at the Santo Tomas Hospital (Panama’s largest public hospital)
- Portrayal of women’s issues in the media (Case study of domestic violence)
- Gorgas Memorial Institute
- Panama Canal
- Fundacion ProEd (Non-profit foundation focused on improving education disparities through innovative environments and curriculum)
- Emberá Community (Indigenous village on the Chagres River)
This class offered the unique opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the Panamanian culture while closely examining women’s health topics taught online throughout the semester. The course was an exciting and emotional experience that opened the doors for international collaborations in both academic and research endeavors for faculty and students.