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The missing jigsaw in women’s health: Can gender and migration lenses help?

At a glance
The intern

Anwesha Pathi, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, India

Hosted by

Bilkis Vissandjée, Faculty of Nursing, Université de Montréal

When you decide to seek health care services, it probably seems like a simple idea: you’re not feeling too well, you’re injured, or in a best-case scenario, it’s time for a checkup, and off you go. For women who have experienced some form of gender-based violence, accessing help within the health system can be a much more fraught experience — and one student is determined to better understand the many determinants that guide victims’ decisions to seek — or avoid — care.

Anwesha Pathi is a student of Development Studies at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, but for 12 weeks this summer, she’s working with grad students, postdocs, and faculty at the Université de Montréal (UdeM), as a Mitacs Globalink research intern. Her project aims to identify and better understand the contextual factors around women’s decisions to seek health care following experiences such as sexual assault outside the domestic arena — subliminal tensions underlying the provision of ethically just and equity-driven health care become apparent. “By doing this research, I need to better understand what plays a role in facilitating health care access and what hinders it,” Anwesha explains.

Global health care access for women is a broad topic, so Anwesha’s approach will focus on comparisons between two demographics: women in South Asia, and women who have immigrated from South Asia to Canada. Given the sensitivity associated with gender-based violence, she’s starting with a systematic literature review. “Because this is a delicate issue, I need to understand and consolidate existing findings at the beginning of the project,” she advises. “From there, I can better understand the role played by intersectional determinants such as language, immigration status, and family structure, among many other mutually reinforcing factors.”

Anwesha’s project is anchored in the research program of her supervising professor Dr. Bilkis Vissandjée of UdeM’s Nursing faculty, who explores how gender, ethnicity, and migration influence health and health care. “The overall aim of the research is to increase understanding and contribute to increased sensitivity, not only among the women who are at risk and who have experienced this violence first-hand but also and especially among the health care workers who treat them and the people who craft policy on the topic,” Anwesha advises. “The research will eventually play a role in both prevention and response for survivors and frontline workers, but also broadly at the policy level. Prior training in human rights and social justice is helping me in my project here. Coupled with expert guidance by Prof. Vissandjée and her research team at UdeM, I feel I’ll be able to contribute towards positive research outcomes.””

Although her project tackles some serious subject matter, Anwesha’s experience itself has been positive: “I took on the internship to get an idea of what I would like to pursue in future. Now I believe I’d like to undertake further studies after my degree.” And in the short term, she’s making the most of her time in Montreal: “I was apprehensive initially, as I do not speak French. To my delight, the atmosphere at UdeM has been very welcoming and memorable. I love the variety of the campus and the city!”


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; the China Scholarship Council; Campus France; the German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico; Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education; and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.