Health Disparities and Social Justice Conference: A Focus on Women’s Health

Inspired by a recent Fellow meeting on the topic, Fellow Katarina Grande attended a social justice-themed conference hosted by DePaul University. Here’s her review of the event:

Session highlights:
Collaborating to reduce health disparities among African American women: A Community-Based Participatory Research workshop
I attended this session because I work with an African American community advisory board that utilizes components of community-based participatory research (CBPR). This talk showcased a few Washington, D.C.-based CBPR projects, one of which focused on infant mortality, a huge topic in Milwaukee. The speakers emphasized the need to treat these research relationships like personal relationships that should be nurtured over time. They advised that financial challenges should be discussed openly with the community partners…a wise lesson.    

Promoting sexual health: going beyond the usual suspects
I was super late to this session because I was participating in a conference call about a tuberculosis cluster. When I arrived, groups were practicing identifying root causes of public health issues and potential structural interventions. I coaxed my group into using an example relevant to my work: health issues within the Hmong community, specifically access to mental health services in Milwaukee. We listed root causes of this issue: lack of transportation, language barriers, lack of Hmong mental health providers, gender roles, stigma, etc., and thought about structural-level, that is, big picture policy or community-level changes. The facilitator encouraged us to think beyond education campaigns and the dissemination of information—it was certainly a challenge.

Creating conditions of empowerment, behavior change and wellbeing among women of low socioeconomic status
Behavior change is one of the most difficult areas of public health I’ve witnessed. Even when changing behavior can greatly positively impact one’s health, it is still a major challenge. This session was quite useful—we learned about the components of motivational interviewing. A professor from the UW-Madison School of Nursing, Diane Lauver, spoke about the self-determination theory (this has a lot to do with motivation) as it relates to community-based participatory research. The premise of this type of motivational interviewing: for behavior change to occur, you cannot tell people what to do. You must ask people what they think about a problem or situation, assess their readiness to deal with the issue, allow them to develop realistic goals, and help them identify resources to form an action plan. We practiced motivational interviewing in small groups using case studies. It was a great exercise—we all found it difficult to not tell the “client” what we thought she should do! 

Female condoms: Ringing in the New Year with Empowerment and Education
Female condoms are an interesting topic to me because they are frequently billed as a key to women’s empowerment in global health contexts where women have little control over their sexual health. But…I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the feasibility of this solution. After this dynamic presentation, however, I am officially an advocate (and cheerleader) for female condoms. Check out the excellent campaign website.