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Knowledge is power. Therefore, its generation and use to solve challenges in people’s lives is another terrain in which patriarchal, colonizing and supremacist tendencies are replicated. These tendencies can become as misogynistic and discriminatory against women and girls as the gender-based violence that affects them. As feminist researchers, we must dismantle the many invisible structures of a science traditionally patriarchal from a model based on “power over” to model of “power with”. In this way, the power of knowledge can be transformative, especially for women and girls.

From International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region (IPPFWHR)’s point of view, doing feminist research on sexual and reproductive health – and specifically on violence against women and violence against children – must be inclusive and diverse, anti-racist and anti-ableist process [1]. In this sense, IPPFWHR relies on the principles of leaving no one behind, agility, democracy, transparency, and mutual accountability. Feminism in action within the scientific realm must go through the whole process of generating knowledge, with special attention to what we have called the five power cores in the research process.

  1. “What” is investigated. This is equivalent to the ontological component and assumes that what is studied aims to dismantle imbalances of power, inequality, injustice and discrimination against women, girls, and people with diverse gender identity. In this way, knowledge coming from all people has inherent value. Value is not an attributable based on facts, but rather on the interpretation that people make of them. When we do feminist research, we put women and girls at the center of the study, and we co-conduct it with them, focusing on their needs and amplifying their voices. This is not only research, but it is in itself an act of political defiance in the face of authoritarian and anti-gender systems that attempt to “objectify” women, girls and gender diverse people by seeing them only as sources of data, and not as the center of studies.
  2. “Who” relates to whom in the investigation. The relationship between the researcher and who is being investigated is a co-creator relationship, with transformative intersubjectivity for all parties. To do feminist research is to be part of a process of change from a particular positioning. Therefore, the knowledge we generate is based on specific points of view, with and from the privileges of our roles in the processes. Feminism requires us to acknowledge our subjectivity, and this in turn demands that we recognize the roles we play as informants, funders, academics, technical staff, field workers, among others. This is an essential exercise to ensure transparency.
  3. “How” we conduct research. This refers to the methods and implications of methodological decisions, which must be based on the nature of what we want to study and not on how we want to do it. Diversity and triangulation of methods and techniques, as well as their critical analysis of how much they contribute to solutions in the lives of women and girls, is essential. Methods should ensure that the views of the most vulnerable people are included – not only to integrate their voices into the study – but also because participating in a study is an act of thinking about ourselves, of having the power to share personal knowledge and transform ourselves through the process.  Feminist research design recognizes, above all, the agency of all people, especially the most oppressed.
  4. Democratic use of research findings. The dissemination and use of information and findings are a key issue and we must ensure sufficient time and resources for this task. Every research product is the result of a collective creation and its communication to key people must be prioritized. To this end, we must involve local actors and activists, who, in creative and bold ways, can ensure accessibility and dissemination of findings to communities and collective spaces, beyond traditional institutions and pathways.
  5. “Resources” to conduct research. As feminist organizations that do science from the Global South, we are constantly fighting to decolonize the generation of evidence. The small funds devoted to research make many global calls highly competitive, but under unequal conditions, since they favor criteria such as membership in a select group of universities, or the exclusive use of the English language, among other factors. This approach favors not only academic organizations in general, but researchers from the Global North in particular.  IPPFRHO believes that equity in resource distribution and research priorities should respond to the impact of inequalities in the lives of people who will benefit from research. Therefore, the use of global income and economic development indicators as a selection criterion to finance research ignores inequalities within countries, intersectional forms of marginalization and oppression, and the state of sexual and reproductive health and rights. That is why we advocate for financing of intersectional feminist research that should prioritize the commitment to amplify the voices of women and girls, and for economic justice in decision-making and investment in research.

The Covid-19 pandemic and its global impact have changed the way research is conducted, both in terms of the urgency required to make evidence-based decisions, and the challenges involved in data collection and analysis. In the current landscape, we must ensure the inclusion of the most excluded people in contexts where pre-existing gaps and inequalities have increased, and we must also overcome their constraints in terms of control and mobility. In this sense, community-based organizations have become much needed central actors and have facilitated the use of local research capabilities to, in an agile way, conduct field work and generate direct changes.  In this way, and surely forever since the beginning of the pandemic, local networks, the leadership of community-based organizations and the democratization in access to information, have become indispensable components for building feasible research design and analysis.  This must become the minimum necessary to subvert traditional forms of power in the research conducted by feminist organizations, with and for women and girls.

[1] Anti-ableism is a core principle of IPPFWHR’s feminist stance.  “Ableism works as a mechanism of white supremacy, capitalism and colonization by devaluing disabled bodies and minds as unnatural, invalid and unworthy across the lines of race, gender, poverty and citizenship. It grants credibility and true humanity exclusively to able bodied people and as such plays a central role in determining which individuals or communities are deemed the useless eaters, the dangerous, the unfit, or the disposable.” Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ)

Written by Susana Medina Salas, Senior Research and Evaluation Officer, International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region (IPPFRHO)

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