Research and activism – the challenge of remaining connected

Alison GregoryBy Dr Alison Gregory
Research Associate
Centre for Academic Primary Care

It’s easy to lose enthusiasm for your job if you’ve been doing it for many years, but when I attended the annual conference of the European Network on Gender and Violence last week, I was struck by the level of passion the delegates continue to have for their work, even after decades of working in their field.

The network was set up to support the exchange of ideas and to encourage collaboration among scholars and professionals who address violence, gender, violence prevention and related issues across Europe.

Nadia Khelaifat and I attended the meeting as young scholars from the Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC) at the University of Bristol to talk about our PhD work in the areas of domestic violence (DV) and migrant women, and the impacts on the friends and family members of DV survivors. In the beautiful and elegant city of Lisbon, topics were discussed ranging from female genital mutilation and intimate partner femicide, to male torture and castration during armed conflicts. With delegates from Portugal, the UK, Germany, Turkey, Austria, Poland, Malta, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Romania, Canada and the USA, a wide variety of countries and cultures were represented.

Some of us were in the early stages of our career, others were stalwarts who had spent 30 or 40 years researching and working in this field. In addition, most were academics, but practitioners and NGO representatives were also present, and all of this diversity resulted in lively, productive, and at times heated, discussion and debate! In particular, activism was considered a foundational component of their research rather than an added extra and it challenged me to think about the interface between the political and the research we undertake.

Most of the delegates weren’t from health disciplines and some in the audience questioned the political motivations of governments who, in their eyes, sought to reframe DV as a health issue by investing in research via health budgets, taking focus off the gendered nature of the debate. Others expressed their welcome of financial investment through any means whilst continuing to highlight gender in all that they did.

For me, the timing of the UK elections, which coincided with the conference, was a reminder to make sure that my research remains connected with the society, culture and politics within which it is conducted. With Thangam Debbonaire, who has 25 years’ experience as a leader at local, national and international levels in DV prevention and gender equality, winning a seat as an MP for Bristol, there is real hope of keeping gender violence on the UK agenda.

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