Throughout this first year the project has repeatedly brought together partners from a diverse range of organisations (academics from two Philippines universities, including leading Filipino feminist researchers; SRH service providers and advocates; and members of DPOs, including disability activists) for planning meetings and training. This ‘bringing together’ had a focus on building capacity in disability inclusive research practices and building technical research skills.
Representatives from some of the project’s partner organisations can be seen talking about their early experience of an inclusive and participatory research project on the video posted on this blog on December 12th.
During more recent data analysis workshops (February), members of the data collection team wrote down their reflections on the experience to date. It was clear that participants felt that their technical skills in relation to research had developed. Written responses to the question ‘what have you learned’ included:
“New skills – confidence to interview and be responsible for whatever outcomes of the interviews. Discipline. Rigour of qualitative research” (SRH service provider)
“At first I felt hesitant to ask them if they will respond to the survey, I always asked the help of my team leader. But when I started to understand what the survey is all about, I had the confidence to interact with people from the community to invite them to participate” (Woman with disability)
In addition to workshop participants reporting that they had developed specific technical skills (for example, in relation to cluster sampling; in-depth interviewing of persons with varying impairments; or developing referral and support protocols in relation to disclosure of violence) through the trainings, they often described their most important opportunities for learning as emerging from the process of working side by side with diverse team members. The process of being part of an inclusive research project, in practice, has developed new understandings among the partners and co-investigators:
“A transformation also occurred to me with respect to working with persons with disability. At the start, I actually shared pessimistic attitude with them doing the tasks” (Academic researcher)
“I observed that the UPCWS [academic] enumerators were asking for ‘tips’ from other enumerators… WOWLEAP [women with disability] enumerators were generous and open in sharing their experiences on the field…. In a way, this recognizes the capacity and skills (including data gathering and fieldwork skills) of others regardless of their educational background or physical “disability”. This is also an acknowledgment that PWDs can do fieldwork, that they can do it regardless of their being “dis-abled.” Hence, a person with or without disability can learn research skills if provided with proper, appropriate and sufficient training skills. Her/his physical condition should not be a criterion or a sole criterion of a person’s capacity or ability to do” (Academic researcher)
In addition to this increased recognition of the skills and capacities of persons with disabilities, a number of participants reported that the project had changed their (sometimes prejudiced) attitudes towards groups seen as ‘other’:
“I learned about the importance of team work … patience is also needed… I also learned that when you are in a research, you shouldn’t judge easily” (Woman with disability)
“The challenge for me that gave me intense fear was when we did field work in a Moslem area. At first I almost wouldn’t want to go in their area especially when they were speaking in their language. My impression of them being ferocious has overcome me. But I really need to do interviews, so the survey pushed through. By God’s grace, it went well and I found out that they were actually kind” (Woman with disability).
This extended beyond co-investigators and members of the partner organisations involved in the data collection, to senior academics and bureaucrats on the project’s Advisory Group:
“I feel ashamed. I have been part of the women’s movement for more than 30 years, but you know until this project I never really thought that much about women with disability. We must do more to include them” (informal interview with Advisory Group member)
The process of being involved in an inclusive research project expanded team members’ networks, and saw the development of a sense of solidarity amongst this disparate group. This is no small achievement, given the at times oppositional stance taken by group members in relation to reproductive rights (with many of the DPO representatives describing themselves as ‘pro-life’, whereas the SRH service providers characterise themselves a ‘pro-choice’). The passage, and current blocking, of the ‘RH Bill’ (the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012) in the Philippines remains a divisive issue in Filipino society. This was and will remain a particular challenge that we face in this project. However, the interactive and participatory nature of the training workshops enabled participants to exchange their various views and to identify ways to collectively contribute to better SRH for women with disability:
“You know what I enjoy is, like in the recent workshop that we just had, people became friends. In that forum we don’t talk about differences, we talk about how we can work together. To me that is an accomplishment already” (interview with project manager, Sept. 2013).