February 17, 2006

Alum Touts S. Asia Research

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“My grand hope would be to make a real difference in the lives of girls and women and to see them better off,” said Anju Malhotra ’80, director of the Population and Social Transitions team at the International Center for Research on Women.

Malhotra, who also oversees the Social and Economic Development group at ICRW, lectured yesterday on intervention research in South Asia. She said that one of the ICRW’s goals is to make its research meaningful. Malhotra focused on two programs headed by the organization, one in Nepal and another in impoverished areas of India.

The studies were designed to collect data on reproductive health and use it to implement effective programs to improve reproductive health services, primarily for young women, and to promote awareness.

Malhotra explained that ICRW’s work has the power to be effective on both macro and micro levels. On the macro level, ICRW hopes to influence organizations such as the UN and the World Bank by using their research to gain support.

“I think that their work is incredibly important because it is research based. It is exciting to see a Cornell [alumna] comeback and share that with us. Their methods for quantifying the impact of their work are going to mean that they are able to lobby for funding,” said Prof. Amy Villarejo, director of the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program.

On the micro level, ICRW hopes to be effective by working with local groups to implement effective programs for young women.

The programs in India and Nepal helped to set up youth organizations and train peer educators and teachers to inform others on topics related to reproductive health. The programs also collected reproductive histories and other data on community members.

Malhotra stressed the importance of local support.

“You have to mobilize the community. If the community doesn’t accept [the program] you’re not going to be successful and you’re not going to be there very long,” Malhotra said.

Researches focused on problems such as girls marrying at early ages – on average between 15 and 16 – and most having their first birth within one year after marriage. They also addressed the lack of access to temporary contraception and, in India, the pressure toward sterilization.

Malhotra said that one of the most interesting things that researchers in India found was how closely aligned economic control is to female empowerment. She said that many women in India defined reproductive health as delaying the age of marriage and gaining economic options.

She cautioned against the instinct to rely on microcredit organizations, groups that make very small loans to poor women and families in developing areas to start small businesses, as an easy solution to give women economic power.

“We are trying to push for microcredit, plus you have to do it with skill building, you have to teach women what running a business means. You have to have financial literacy courses because if you can’t manage your money then you can’t do anything,” Malhotra said.

There is hope that these studies will have effects that reach beyond the communities in which they took place.

Ashish Bajracharya grad said that he was interested in Malhotra’s work because of its broader implications and the ways in which it could be applied to his own work.

He explained that ICRW’s programs “offer an interesting way of doing a social experiment and seeing how results can be translated into policy.”

ICRW’s work can be related to high income countries like the United States as well as be an important model for developing programs in other areas, according to Malhotra.

“Young people everywhere are in a very exciting period of life; they have hopes and aspirations