The Reproductive Health Working Group (RHWG) – hosted at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) - organized a special event to celebrate its 30 year anniversary as a network and the launch of a special issue of eleven papers published in the international peer-reviewed journal Reproductive Health Matters.
The RHWG was established in 1988 in Cairo by Dr. Huda Zurayk, Professor Emeritus & former Dean of FHS and is now coordinated by Professor and Associate Dean Jocelyn DeJong at FHS with a regional governing committee. It is a multidisciplinary network whose main aim is capacity building of research on reproductive health in the Arab countries and Turkey. Since 1988, it has been a supportive community of researchers working on gender, health and well-being in the Arab region and Turkey.
Its recent event took place on 26 March 2018 at AUB, and was followed by an internal meeting on 27 March to address the different challenges that are facing the RHWG, including the transfer of leadership to a new generation of researchers.
Around 50 public health professors, practitioners, and participants from various backgrounds gathered at AUB to celebrate the Network's thirtieth anniversary, and to learn about the publication of 11 papers by network members, in a special issue of the international peer-reviewed journal, Reproductive Health Matters. The special issue is entitled “Gendered bodies and reproduction in the Arab countries and Turkey".
Thirty authors from more than 10 countries contributed to the issue, predominantly from the Arab region and Turkey. Mentors from the network supported less experienced researchers in paper writing to raise the chances of publication acceptance.
Funded by a grant from the Canadian organization the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to FHS this special journal issue considers the ways in which the group contributed to global health conversations through three examples of interdisciplinary research that, in privileging local contexts, modified or even challenged prevailing approaches to gender, health and well-being internationally and often raised entirely new issues for consideration. A paper on the network also explored the reasons for its longevity and the importance of research networks given conflict and isolation of researchers in the region.
Additionally, this issue addressed key topics, most of which were raised for the first time in this region. Topics of the respective papers include: perspectives of women in Lebanon about near-fatal complications of their newborns, their childbirth experiences in public hospitals, and on coping with breast cancer diagnosis in Palestine and Turkey, gender and the workplace in Turkey, Eastern European migrant workers in bars in Jordan, male sexuality in Egypt and the effects of militarization on childbirth experiences of Palestinian women as well as perceptions of young Palestinian refugee adolescents in Lebanon about early marriage .
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.