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Empowering women as leaders in health: Lacwhn's Itinerant University.

"I came here with a suitcase full of expectations, and all of them have been fulfilled."--Itinerant University participant

Since 1998, the Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network has offered the International Courses on "Gender Perspectives in Health" as part of the Itinerant University project in the region.

This human resources training program seeks to:

* Promote and/or strengthen women's leadership in decision-making arenas, particularly in the healthcare services and public policies in health, thereby promoting women's exercise of their civil rights.

* Encourage civil society's participation in the process of cultural transformation within State institutions to ensure equity in the social relations between women and men.

* Nurture strategic alliances among health-care workers and members of the women's health movement to promote the changes in health care that women need.

This educational initiative pairs a local university with at least one woman's organization. The academic institution provides infrastructure, and the women's movement contributes organizational capacity. Both are strengthened as these partners work together for women's empowerment and gender equity. The courses are given by a team of internationally renowned experts, women members of LACWHN who share their academic and practical experience and local specialists in the subject. Participants include members of the women's health movement (community groups and NGOs), women who work in the public health system and occasionally members of pertinent professional associations, academia and local government.

Through the overarching focus of "Gender, Globalization and Health Sector Reform," the Itinerant University courses apply a gender perspective to the process of health sector reform in the context of globalization and the neoliberal model, which has implied a serious paradigm shift from health as a right to health as a commodity with a clear impact on the health of women. The courses provide an in-depth examination of gender inequities in health by exploring a range of key issues including: sexuality, the body and sexual and reproductive rights; gender, work and the environment; bioethics and gender; quality of care in women's health; violence against women; and older women's health.

Courses have been offered in numerous countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Only residents of the host country are invited to attend.

The first Itinerant University was held in Peru in 1998. The course enjoyed the technical and academic support of the School of Public Health and Administration in the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia and benefited from the participation of the Lima-based women's organization Movimiento Manuela Ramos.


In 1999, the course in Chile was offered in collaboration with the Universidad de Chile's Center for Public Policy Analysis and benefited from the organizational capacity of the Foro Red de Salud y Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos (Network Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights). The Itinerant University has had an additional impact in Chile where the original course was presented by the Medical School at the Universidad de Concepcion and in the healthcare system thanks to the El Bosque Municipal Health Department (Santiago). Groups in other regions of the country also have requested the course, and efforts are underway to reproduce this successful experience elsewhere in Chile.

In Brazil (1999), the course was developed with the Instituto de Saude Coletiva (Collective Health Institute) and the Programa de Estudos em Genero, Mulher e Saude (MUSA, Women, Health and Gender Studies Program) of the Universidade Federal de Bahia. Sao Paulo's Coletivo Feminista Sexualidade e Saude (Feminist Sexuality and Health Collective) and MUSA worked together to organize this program.

In November 2000, the fourth course was offered in Bolivia through the Universidad de San Simon in Cochabamba. The Centro de Informacion y Desarrollo de la Mujer (CIDEM, Center for Women's Information and Development) in La Paz was responsible for organizing the course.

The fifth Itinerant University course was offered in Uruguay from February 12 to 22, 2001 and hosted by the Department of Psychology at the Universidad de la Republica. The group Mujer y Salud en Uruguay (MYSU, Women and Health in Uruguay) organized the course.

Two new courses were offered in the final quarter of 2001. The course in Costa Rica was given in October under the auspices of the Universidad de Costa Rica and with the coordination of the Asociacion de Mujeres en Salud (AMES, Women's Health Association).

In November 2001, the Itinerant University moved to Maracay, Venezuela, in collaboration with the Universidad de Carabobo. This course was facilitated by the Nucleo Aragua Gender Studies Department and the Instituto de Altos Estudios en Salud Publica (Institute for Advanced Studies in Public Health). Local sponsors were AVESA and the Asociacion Latinoamericana de Medicina Social (ALAMES, Latin American Association of Social Medicine).

The course in Argentina was held November 4-8, 2002, in the city of Cordoba with the participation of Servicio a la Accion Popular (Se.A.P.), the Fundacion para Estudio e Investigacion de la Mujer (FEIM, Foundation for Women's Studies and Research) and the Masters Program in Social Sciences and the School of Social Work at the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, as well as the support of the National Council on Women's Affairs and the Pan American Health Organization.


During November 18-22, 2002, the Itinerant University took place in the Dominican Republic. This course was organized with the assistance of the Colectivo Mujer y Salud (Women and Health Collective). All participants received university credit from the Universidad Autonomo de Santo Domingo and the Universidad Primada de America.

In 2003, two new Itinerant Universities in Colombia and El Salvador focused on the project's longstanding priority topic of Health Sector Reform. In El Salvador, the Itinerant University was sponsored by the Masters Program in Public Health of the Universidad de El Salvador and organized by the Alianza para la Salud Sexual y Reproductiva en El Salvador (Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health in El Salvador) and the women's group Las Dignas.

In Colombia, the Gender Studies Programs of the Universidad del Valle and the Universidad de Antioquia, the Education, Gender and Development Group of the Universidad del Cauca and the women's organizations Casa de la Mujer and Fundacion Mujer, Arte y Vida (MAVI, Women, Art and Life Foundation) were partners in this educational initiative.

During 2004, the Itinerant University traveled to Ecuador. On this occasion, LACWHN partnered with Fundacion Servicios para un Desarrollo Alternativo del Sur (SENDAS, Services for an Alternative Development of the South) and the Universidad de Cuenca.

In 2005, an Itinerant University was offered in Guatemala, which was remarkable for the high level of attendance of indigenous women who work in the provision of health care. The counterparts in this activity were Tierra Viva, Universidad de San Carlos and FLACSO. The three courses addressed: gender, social inequality and ethnicity in health care; participation, citizenship, democracy and rights; and health care policies.

In the second semester of 2005, the Itinerant University moved to Suriname where it was given in English for the first time. The courses on Gender Perspective and Advocacy in the Health Sector Reform were carried out with the collaboration of Pro Health and the Anton de Kom University of Suriname in Paramaribo.

The Itinerant University in Curacao was held in Willemstad at the University of the Netherlands Antilles, June 12-17, 2006, with the support of the following women's organizations: CAFRA, NASKHO, the Bureau Vrouwen Zaken and Thuiszorg Banda' Abou. This edition of the Itinerant University was remarkable for the tremendous diversity of the participants in terms of age, education and participation in decision-making bodies.

The next Itinerant University courses will be offered November 13-22, 2006, in Mexico City at the Facultad de Humanidades of the UNAM, with the collaboration of SIPAM, Salud y Genero (Health and Gender), A.C., and Equidad de Genero: Ciudadania, Trabajo y Familia (Gender Equity: Citizenship, Work and Family), A.C.

The experience of nearly eight years has been a great success. Hundreds of women (and some men) working in a variety of areas related to women's health have benefited from the leadership-building and human resource training aspects of the courses. By focusing on issues of globalization and health sector reform, the courses also have brought attention to the impact of this phenomenon on health in general and sexual and reproductive rights in particular. However, the courses have not just taught the participants to perceive their realities with a gender perspective but have encouraged them to exercise their rights as citizens.
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Title Annotation:PANORAMA
Publication:Women's Health Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Previous Article:The invisible woman: A true story.
Next Article:Building a gender agenda in public health policy.

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