Experts consider new center on women and children
Nearly 100 participants from a wide range of disciplines gathered recently for a workshop to consider the creation of a new center to study the complex issues related to the health and well-being of women and children.
“Reproductive health has suffered at the hands of people who spew rhetoric,” said Tamara Fox, one of the keynote speakers at the workshop, held September 30, 2010 at the Gleacher Center. “A center for family planning and reproductive health could play a central role in finding solutions that save the lives of women and children every day,” said Fox, a senior director for The ELMA Philanthropies. “The University of Chicago has an important role to play in these discussions.”
Heather Boonstra, senior public policy associate for the Guttmacher Institute and the second keynote speaker, explained the Institute’s achievements in promoting reproductive rights but underscored the need for patience. Successes can take years, even decades, she said.
The idea for the workshop began about one year ago with Melissa Gilliam, MD, associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics; chief, family planning.
“Sometimes your training is not the only training that is needed,” Gilliam said. “Instead of starting with a single discipline and applying the same hammer to every nail, we needed a problem-solving approach to attack issues that affect women and children in a broader way.”
The workshop was supported by Arete the research development group within the Office of the Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories which catalyzes interdisciplinary, cross-departmental projects at the University.
The workshop was divided into three sessions that allowed representatives from a variety of disciplines to describe their projects and research and discuss successes and obstacles, differences and commonalities in their work.
The first session on global issues included topics such as: the impact of television on women’s autonomy in rural India; law and human dignity in health; and the relation between teenage pregnancy and health and economic outcomes in South Africa. HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, infertility, and obesity were recurring themes. Emily Oster, assistant professor of economics, and moderator of the global panel, said she would like to learn how to promote positive features of social networks and structures for women and children.
In the second session on systems, policy, and context, Debra Stulberg, assistant professor of family medicine, spoke of the need to train physicians to deliver preventive and counseling services related to reproductive care. Harold Pollack, Helen Ross professor in the School of Social Service Administration and co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, studies disadvantaged youth and violence prevention and noted dramatic racial disparities and “toxic notions of masculinity.” John List, professor of economics, urged application of the rigor of randomized medical trials to investigations in fields the proposed center will explore.
The child and youth development session participants explored interactions between law and reproductive health, sexual decision-making, and understanding why interventions work for some but not others. Many domains are interconnected, including mental health, school performance, delinquency, and sexual risk-taking.
Gilliam observed that the strength of an interdisciplinary approach would allow application of new paradigms, methodologies, and tools. Social scientists take one approach, economists take another, and providers take a third: they can be complementary.
After the workshop, working groups were formed to explore and produce white papers on individual topics. Then, participants will combine the white papers into a single paper that summarizes the total experience and details strengths and how University faculty can take a leadership position in the global conversation.
“While the path might not be well-described, the need is clear,” said Matthew Christian, assistant vice president for research program development. “There is no science for starting a new center,” he cautioned.
By Randi Henderson