Springer Nature aims to help in the fight for equality and inclusion on multiple fronts, as evidenced by our Black Lives Matter portal and commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG10: Reduced Inequalities and Pride. For International Migrants Day we have reached out to some of our authors, editors, and researchers, asking them how they are helping in the ongoing fight for equity, inclusion and a better understanding of migration, and how we, as a scholarly publisher, are contributing to these goals by publishing and distributing their research. In this interview we speak with Prof. dr. Sawitri Saharso, Editor-in-Chief of Comparative Migration Studies.
My work is at the intersection of migration, culture and gender studies. My current research project focuses on the dilemmas that women of some migrant communities and professionals like social workers or general practitioners (GPs) may experience regarding so-called harmful cultural practices. These are practices that harm the rights and well-being of a person, because of that person’s gender. An example is honor related violence. Women, who are affected by these practices turn to these professionals for help and they are expected to advise them or decide on intervention, like GPs receive requests to perform a virginity test.
I hope to create more awareness of the views of the women involved. Their problem is often presented as a choice between their freedom or their culture, but for many women this is an impossible choice, which tears them apart. When for instance they visit their GP with health complaints because of pressure to enter an arranged marriage, it is obvious that they do not want this marriage. Yet, they often also realize that if they do not comply, there are other aspects of their lives they highly value, that will be jeopardized, like acceptance by their family and community.
I conduct the research with a team of two postdoc researchers and one PhD-student. We research both the women involved and the professionals to learn about their experiences, their perspectives and their moral dilemmas. We find it important to recognize that these women are no passive cultural dupes but negotiate cultural constraints. Connected to that, we believe that what is in the women’s interest and well-being cannot be disconnected from their understandings of their cultural identities and cultural negotiation. This should be considered by professionals in the dialogue with the client or patient and in the decision-making on intervention.
Our short-term goal is to develop a gender and culture-sensitive ethical framework that supports the women and the professionals in their decision-making on harmful practices. We hope that this framework may be relevant also for other groups of vulnerable people and contribute to a better quality of care for the women concerned. Theoretically, we aim to develop an empirically grounded new perspective on autonomy under coercive cultural conditions. Our aim is also to stimulate debate about harmful practices, gender equality and (sexual) health. Therefore, we have planned to develop educational tools for medical education and for migrant women’s grassroots organizations.
I don’t think there is one most productive way, because that is dependent on the subject and the field you are working in. Like, I have been invited by the state secretary of emancipation policies to advise, which is given my expertise rather unsurprising. I have served also in field-specific advisory committees. The latest one is about the needs of people with a refugee background regarding reproductive choice. I find this advisory work very rewarding, because it is an opportunity to share your knowledge and the policymakers, I met were usually open-minded and willing to consider my ideas.
I would very much like to see women all over the world having more freedom to decide over their own lives and more gender equality. Unfortunately, the current times offer little reason for optimism. For now, I would be happy if my own project could make a modest contribution to greater freedom and equality for those women in the Netherlands, who now suffer from harmful practices.
About Sawitri Saharso
Sawitri Saharso is Professor of Citizenship and Moral Diversity at the University of Humanistic Studies (Utrecht) and VU Amsterdam (Department of Sociology). She is trained as a migration sociologist, and combines this with an expertise in genderstudies and bioethics. Her current research project studies the moral dilemmas of women of migrant background and of general practitioners and social workers regarding so-called harmful cultural practices, and aims to develop a gender and culture-sensitive ethical framework that supports them in their decision-making process.