2019-2020 Human Rights Graduate Research Grant Recipients


2019-2020 Human Rights Graduate Research Grant Recipients
Mary Bugbee Graduate Student in Anthropology smiling

Mary Bugbee, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology

Topic: Tracing the Social Life of the Right to Health in Mexican Health System Reform

Since the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the Mexican presidency in July 2018, Mexico has undergone major institutional changes. Among these changes include a health system reform that phases out the public health insurance program known as Seguro Popular, which was implemented in 2004. Proponents of Seguro Popular argue that it brought cost-savings, higher quality care, and greater efficiency to the health system. However, its opponents claim that as a “neoliberal” reform, it ultimately prevented the possibility of universal health care. Rather, they argue it introduced market logics and financing mechanisms that have jeopardized the ability of public health institutions to equitably fulfill the right to health for all Mexicans. At the core of the controversy surrounding Seguro Popular and its phase-out is an ideological debate as to how the right to health should be fulfilled.

My proposed project is an ethnographic examination into how this ideological debate is experienced, understood, and contested on the ground among health care administrators and professionals, government bureaucrats, and patients in San Luis Potosí and Mexico City. I aim to trace the “social life of human rights” within this context of health reform. In other words, I seek to understand the extent to which and in what ways human rights frameworks are being deployed by various social actors during the reform process, including politicians, policymakers, and bureaucrats, members of the mainstream Mexican media, health care professionals, and patients within the health system.

I ask, what are the intersections and contradictions between the deployment of human rights frameworks at various levels? How prominently does rights discourse figure into the understandings and debates around health reform among those most materially impacted by it, especially patients and their medical providers? This project will build on the scholarship of anthropologists and other social scientists who have used ethnographic methods to interrogate the intersection of human rights frameworks with health policy and to examine the impacts of neoliberal health policies across various sociopolitical contexts.

Vivian Laurens, Graduate Student from Anthropology standing against rail with rushing stream in backgroundVivian Laurens, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology

Topic: Examining the Link Between the Right to Health and Peacebuilding Efforts in Rural Colombia 

In 2016, the Colombian government and FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army) signed a peace agreement, promising to end over 60 years of armed conflict. The resulting peace agreement includes a provision to advance the right to health through the development of a national plan for rural health; a provision that is described in the text of the accord as indispensable for building peace in Colombia. The idea of linking the right to health and the provision of health care to peace building is not new. In fact, since the 1980s, the Peace through Health (PtH) movement has conceived the promotion of the right to health as a tool to build peace, and has become a central feature of humanitarian organizations. However, the inclusion of the promotion of the right to health in transitional justice and peace building processes is novel and unique to the Colombian case. While in 1991 the right to health was constitutionalized in Colombia, the 1993 neoliberal health care reform ceded the insurance of health care to the private sector. This privatized system has been criticized for failing to protect the right to health, by relying on the market economy rather than on policy and programs to protect and promote the right to health; a strategy that has been proven to be ineffective around the world. For Colombia, the concern is that the current neoliberal healthcare system will be extended to rural areas, which would continue to jeopardize the right to health. In an effort to resist the expansion of the existing neoliberal model of health to Colombia’s rural regions, civil society organizations have been working to design alternative models of rural health that could succeed in the protection of the right to health and promotion of peace in Colombia. Peace building strategies that are locally focused and structured from “below,” such as the current efforts from civil society in Colombia, have proven effective in resisting neoliberal policies. My research project aims: 1) to examine the link between the promotion of the right to health and peacebuilding; 2) to explore the inclusion of the right to health in TJ processes and the potential economic and social advantages of doing so; and lastly 3) to investigate the involvement of local rural communities and non-governmental organizations in the process of advancing the right to health and building peace in Colombia. To achieve these goals, I will be working closely with Red SaludPaz (Health-Peace network -RSP), a national network of universities and civil society organizations that has been tasked with supporting the development of the plan for rural health. RSP’s mission is to support peace building in Colombia through the advancement of the human right to health.

Graduate Student from HDFS standing in front of a lake and smiling

Samantha Lawrence, PhD Candidate, Department of Human Development and Family Sciences 

Topic: Discriminatory victimization of transgender and gender nonbinary (T&GN) youth

Discriminatory victimization of transgender and gender nonbinary (T&GN) youth is a human rights and public health concern that warrants increased attention. T&GN youth experience disproportionately high rates of discrimination and bullying in schools, with as many as 78-96% reporting being harassed in school and up to 83% reporting being physically assaulted (Greytak et al., 2009; McGuire et al., 2010; Sausa, 2005). T&GN youth are not only discriminated against and victimized in interpersonal contexts (e.g., misgendering, teasing), but also systemically (e.g., exclusion from curricula & gender preferred bathrooms; HRW, 2016), the consequences of which are overwhelming (e.g., almost 70% of T&GN youth report feeling unsafe in school as a result of their discriminatory experiences; Nairn & Smith, 2003).

Though limited previous research has examined student evaluations of interpersonal LGBT rights violations (i.e., discriminatory exclusion & teasing; Horn et al., 2008), research has yet to examine evaluations of systemic discrimination or parents’ and school staff’s evaluations of T&GN discrimination of any kind. Thus, the current study will involve the development of a measure to assess students’, parents’, and school staff’s evaluations of interpersonal and systemic T&GN students’ rights violations. The expected project outcomes are therefore 1) to develop a reliable and valid measure that can be used in this and future studies, 2) to contribute to the literature on the T&GN experience in schools, and 3) to garner an understanding of students’, parents’, and school staff’s evaluations of T&GN rights violations, which is critical to the development and implementation of programming that will effectively and consistently promote gender-inclusive school climates. 

Mayte Restrepo-Ruiz, MA, MPH, PhD Candidate, Department of Public Health Sciences 

Graduate Student from Public Health Sciences smiling

Topic: Intimate Partner Violence in Contexts of Armed Conflict: The Case of Colombia

My research deals with intimate partner violence (IPV) in contexts of armed conflict and the associated mental health impact for women. Armed conflicts bring devastation and suffering, in particular to the civilian population. In countries facing armed conflicts, people are exposed to severe human rights violations. These include sexual assault by armed actors, massacres, forced disappearance of loved ones and forced displacement, and other possible violations. In contexts of armed conflict, violence against women is particularly aimed at their bodies and their roles as women in societies. Having been exposed to armed conflict or war is associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and substance use. Research assessing violence against women in armed conflict contexts has predominantly focused on the sexual violence that is perpetrated by armed actors. Less well recognized it is the impact of armed conflict on the IPV experienced by women. The mental health consequences of IPV are well known but the mental health impact of IPV for women in armed conflict contexts has not yet been fully examined. Moreover, armed conflicts lead to the fracture of the social fabric and the imposition of social rules through dominance and intimidation over entire communities. Consequently, risk factors for IPV, such as traditional gender norms, may be intensified as consequence of the armed conflict-related violence while protective factors, such as women’s autonomy and social support, may be weakened.

My research focuses on Colombia given its long history of internal armed conflict history and high rates of IPV experienced by women. This country has also experienced internal armed conflict for almost six decades, which has brought devastating consequences for the civilian population. The Colombian government has formally recognized approximately nine million (18%) of its citizens as direct victims of the armed conflict, including tens of thousands of women who have suffered sexual assault by armed actors and millions who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Colombia is also a country that experiences an already high prevalence of IPV, with two-thirds of women experiencing any type of IPV such as physical, sexual, and/or psychological violence. I use the socio-ecological model and an intersectionality theoretical approach to develop a research model that focuses on three relevant domains in the lives of Colombian women: their exposure to armed conflict-related violence; the risk and protective factors for IPV; and their experiences of IPV. My study attempts to understand how these domains affect the mental health of Colombian women. I propose a three-phase explanatory mixed methods research design (QUANTITATIVE–>qualitative). This study is significant, as it will contribute to the limited literature on IPV in armed conflict contexts and it is the first study that takes a historical data analysis approach to better understand this association. The importance of this study lies also on the potential use of its findings by the Colombian government during the transition from violence to post-conflict in creating an accurate account of the multiple ways socio-political violence affected directly and indirectly the lives of half of its citizens.