A Permanent Place for Gender in Global Health Education

Constance Newman, IntraHealth’s senior team leader for gender equality and health, has been appointed adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).

The topic of gender is conspicuously absent from the curriculum in most global public health schools, according to Newman. But this fall, she will begin training graduate students at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health to understand gender’s role in transnational migration and its policy implications. During her three-year appointment, Newman will work with faculty to integrate gender into courses offered by UNC’s Department of Maternal and Child Health.

This fall, through a course on reproductive health policy, Newman will focus on how gender affects—and even drives—groups of people to migrate from one country and culture to another. The transition is different for men and women and holds different opportunities and challenges for each.

“Migration is an unsettling thing,” Newman says. “It can actually lead to new social and economic opportunities for women, new freedoms for women. But it depends on how they migrate. If women migrate into unprotected domestic jobs, which happens all the time, then they have no labor or health protections. And then the women are vulnerable to sexual assault.” 

Migrant women are, in general, more vulnerable than men when it comes to physical and sexual abuse and are also more likely to be targeted by human traffickers.

What happens to women’s reproductive rights when they move from one country to another? How does the experience of domestic violence change? And what are some solutions? These are a few of the questions Newman will challenge her students to address and to carry over into their public health careers.

As chair of the Triangle Global Health Consortium’s gender working group, Newman is helping to develop a plan to integrate gender into the curricula in global public health schools in the Triangle area.

Over the next three years, she and her colleagues—including team members from FHI 360, Curamericas Global, the Triangle Global Health Consortium, and UNC—will implement a three-phase plan. They’ll start with a needs assessment, working with UNC, Duke University, North Carolina State University, and other local organizations to find out what faculty and students want and need.

“From there, we will have a better idea of what to do, but we’ll also be able to identify which institutions are willing to pilot the program we develop,” she says. “Then the team will design, develop, and pilot gender materials. One of the most important things is to figure out how to make it ongoing, how to make it institutionalized.”

Too many public health graduates enter the workforce without understanding gender’s place in global health, Newman says. “You’ve got to have graduates coming out with an idea of how gender affects health, and the role of gender equality in achieving positive health outcomes,” she says. “Teaching at UNC is just one aspect of a larger initiative to integrate gender into public health schools.”

Constance Newman is senior team leader for gender equality and health at IntraHealth International. She has over 25 years of experience in health and development programs, including reproductive health and family planning, gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, primary health care, child survival, environmental sanitation, developmental disabilities, and refugee resettlement. She has worked in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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