Gender matters in Saskatchewan

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Publication Date: 
Thu, 2011-03-31

Researchers gather in the province to discuss women’s health

by Carla Simon

In January 2011, Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence (PWHCE) hosted two events to celebrate and share women’s health research in Saskatchewan. The proceedings began with an evening Café Scientifique on “Gender and Women’s Health Matters” at Saskatoon’s McNally Robinson bookstore, on Thursday,  Jan. 20. This was followed by a Gender Matters Workshop, on Friday, Jan. 21 at the University of Saskatchewan.

Café Scientifique
Despite cold weather, organizer Yvonne Hanson (Prairie Women’s Researcher and Diversity Education Coordinator), was delighted with a full house at the Café Scientifique, sponsored by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. As featured in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, this public event provided people with a chance to ask questions and discuss answers. It went beyond participants’ expectations in terms of networking, as well as connecting and learning more about specific research methods.

Guest speaker Diane Martz presented her new pilot study on caregiving and health service needs for elderly rural women and men. For the study’s 80 participants, most frequently there is only one son or daughter who still lives nearby, compared to previous generations where several siblings were able to share the responsibility for caregiving. Lil Sabiston, past Chair of PWHCE’s Board, commented “it’s a whole new reality. Sometimes it’s friends and neighbours caring for older people. But an old widower in a small town might not even know his neighbours. It’s becoming like that because land is being bought up by large businesses. The nearest neighbours could be miles away”.

Margaret Haworth-Brockman, the second speaker and Executive Director of PHWCE, reflected on the long history of community-based research in Saskatchewan and Manitoba communities. This is important for PWHCE to continue to share information from Saskatchewan women to federal and national bodies, acting as a conduit to communicate back and forth as new policies are introduced.
Many changes have been instituted as a result of women’s health research in Saskatchewan. To illustrate, when health services regionalization was beginning, Diane Martz received a PWHCE grant to explore intake for mental health services in newly developed rural health regions. She discovered that many women felt constrained by political boundaries, and were forced to travel long distances to designated centres for mental health services, rather than access care in the nearest town. This research led to policy change and a reorganization of intake for services, which allowed women to get the care they needed much closer to home. 

Gender Matters Workshop
The next day, a mixture of established researchers (from the disciplines of indigenous literature through population health promotion to research ethics), students and service providers met for a one day “Women’s Health and Gender Matters” Workshop. Participants came from Saskatoon and surrounding area, as well as from Spiritwood and Regina to take part in the events at the University of Saskatchewan. The day featured a mixture of sharing of presentations and opportunities to discuss how to strengthen women’s health research in the province. In breakout sessions, small groups of attendees shared their expertise and current research in progress, and then discussed what they see as promising research topics for future works.  Three presentations highlighted interesting research that utilized innovative methods of investigation.

Colleen Anne Dell (Research Chair in Substance Abuse at the University of Saskatchewan) spoke about the healing journey for women who have been incarcerated. Dr. Dell, an early recipient of a PWHCE grant, has spent her career working with women who use substances; she is now a Senior Research Associate of the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse. She helped to develop appropriate protocols for working with Aboriginal women in the justice system. At the Workshop, she shared a memorable DVD and song about the women’s healing journey.

Jennifer Poudrier (Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Saskatchewan) described her work with the Battleford Tribal Council: “Healthy Body: A Pilot Study of PhotoVoice for First Nations Women”. Her research has delved into the process of engaging women in Aboriginal communities in research to explore “what is healthy” and healthy body image. The project highlights women’s own perceptions of their body weight and how they see themselves. To illustrate, one woman in her 50’s shared that she feels healthy and fit, while other people see her as overweight.

Jenifer Nicol (Assistant Professor in Educational Psychology and Special Education, and music therapist) discussed the value of listening to music for women with chronic pain and how they use music as a coping strategy. This issue resonated with all participants and the audience was excited to learn more. Interestingly, music therapy isn’t only repetitive soothing white noise and clients might work through grief issues using a musical arrangement that they would never want to hear again once they moved on.

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