In a major step towards advancing research capacity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the Reproductive Health Working Group (RHWG), with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) – Canada, is moving forward to strengthen its multidisciplinary research network on sexual and reproductive health and gender in the Arab countries and Turkey.
“Against the backdrop of regional crises, this network reaffirms dedication to reducing isolation and strengthening a community of researchers who share a broad interest in the health among diverse groups, with special attention to reproduction and gender relations in the Arab countries and Turkey,” stated Dr. Jocelyn DeJong, RHWG coordinator, professor and associate dean at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS).
The RHWG was established in 1988 in Cairo by Dr. Huda Zurayk, Professor Emeritus & former Dean of Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at the American University of Beirut, and is now coordinated by Dr. DeJong at FHS with a regional governing committee. Since 1988, it has been a supportive community of researchers working on gender, health and well-being in the Arab region and Turkey which meets annually, conducts regional exchange and provides seed funding to individual researchers.
The new initiative will enhance network and research leadership through a series of activities that will be conducted during the next four years, including community building through face-to-face encounters and online networking, as well as mentoring younger researchers. The network also aims to continue to generate powerful new ideas and produce high quality research from the region on gender and health, and to share it more effectively with diverse audiences within and beyond the region.
Despite an increasingly divided and conflict-ridden region, the RHWG has managed to create a generous community of researchers, who explicitly welcome and support junior scholars, offer constructive criticism throughout the research process, and together, provide a collective voice on gender, health and well-being from a region underrepresented and poorly understood in global public health and development debates. A constant through the life of the RHWG has been openness towards the socio-historical embeddedness of health, attention to local lived experience, and the privileging of multidisciplinary research, which allows for alternative ways of knowing about health concerns in actual contexts. Its recent special issue of research by network members was recently launched with a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the research network.