I am interested in the intersections of gender, relationship power dynamics, experiences of violence and how these intersect to influence disproportionate rates of HIV among young women in South Africa. Working with young women and community organizations I hope that my PhD research will help those most affected by the HIV epidemic through improved programming and policy making that is youth-engaged, gender-transformative and community-based.
In South Africa, the country with the highest absolute number of people living with HIV in the world, 2,000 young women (aged 15-24) acquire HIV every week. New infection rates among young women in the nation are 3 to 4 times higher than their male counter parts. Although there has been an influx of research and programming aimed at improving the sexual health and well-being of young women in South Africa in recent years, too often, the voices of young, impoverished, and marginalized young people get ignored in decisions that directly impact their lives. Acknowledging that young people are experts in their own lives, and are essential to developing meaningful and successful responses to the HIV epidemic, for my PhD, which will begin in September of 2018, I am going to listen to young people and work with them to explore what questions are important to them, how we can use the answers to those questions to inform better sexual health programming and how we can improve our relationships with the communities that we study. Broadly, I am interested in the intersections of gender, relationship power dynamics, experiences of violence and how these intersect to influence disproportionate rates of HIV among young women in South Africa. Working with young women and community organizations I hope that my PhD research will help those most affected by the HIV epidemic through improved programming and policy making that is youth-engaged, gender-transformative and community-based.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
Being a public scholar means being a community advocate and using the privileges of the academy to amplify community voices in order to inform community and evidence-based research, programs, and policy. Through advocacy and meaningful community collaboration, public scholars can help to create sustainable actions and change that benefit the communities they work within for the benefit of affected populations and the greater public.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
Through the PSI platform, the PhD experience can better support students to work with affected communities in order to develop, implement and disseminate community-based projects. The PSI allows students to be creative and provides the space and funding for students who are passionate about public scholarship to truly engage and pursue efforts that may often be overlooked within academia, including efforts aimed at advancing knowledge through meaningful involvement of affected communities, and studies that are conducted by, with, and for participants. For myself this includes youth-engagement in data analysis and knowledge translation and exchange.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
I believe my PhD work will be an opportunity to explore independent research pursuits, gain experience leading community-based research projects, and a time to truly invest in connections and collaborations that I foresee as a foundation to a research platform that I hope to continue to pursue as a global health researcher and professor. Through the engagement of young people in the research process, I hope to inspire youth in the global South to pursue careers and academic pursuits within health science research. Moreover, I hope that this project will continue to build sustainable connections with global partners that can continue to provide meaningful global community bridging opportunities, in which students from Canada and sub-Saharan Africa can learn and affect change in their global communities together.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
Through my PhD work I am in constant contact with partners in Soweto and Durban South Africa. We have on ongoing collaboration and connections to community-based organizations, such as Project Empower which works with women and youth in the community to address pervasive gender inequities through gender transformative programming and advocacy. With the support of the PSI I plan to engage youth who have been previous participants of a youth-engaged HIV prevention cohort study ‘AYAZAZI’ as research assistants who will support the data analysis of my PhD research and helped to plan events and unique research outputs (e.g. videos, blogs, policy briefs) through an ongoing youth-led knowledge translation and exchange program.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
After working for a number of years in the front lines of mental health and addiction services in Vancouver, I decided to return to University to understand larger public health policies that influence the health of those marginalized by socio-structural inequities. In my undergrad and masters program at Simon Fraser University this interest developed into a global scale. Through my work at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and with Dr. Angela Kaida at Simon Fraser University, I have been exploring a number of barriers to HIV prevention among young women and men growing up in HIV hyper-endemic settings in South Africa within her youth-engaged HIV prevention cohort study entitled "AYAZAZI." I decided to continue my graduate studies to the PhD level so that I could lead research that engages with young people in order to have profound global impacts on health policies and programming.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
UBC is a prestigious university located in the city I have called home for the last 11 years. I chose to pursue my PhD research at UBC, as I feel that the training offered through the School of Population and Public Health will give me the skills to be able to lead my own research projects. As a current researcher at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and within Dr. Angela Kaida's Global HIV Interdisciplinary Research Lab at SFU I will be able to maintain those strong connections, while at the same time working with Dr. Gina Ogilvie. This has allowed me to expand my research networks, including the opportunity to work within the Women's Health Research Initiative. I am excited for the opportunity to and within the expanding network of global health research opportunities at the School of Population of Public Health and UBC as a whole.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
I have worked alongside many brilliant researchers that have been trained within the School of Population and Public Health, and am eager to learn and develop my skills in epidemiology and research design through this prestigious program.
For you, what was the best surprise about graduate life, about UBC or life in Vancouver?
I love Vancouver inside and out. I have lived here for 9 years and am so excited to be up on Point Grey. The trails, the beaches, the mountains.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
A relaxing weekend to me involves long trail runs, hikes, camping and spending time with friends. I look forward to many after school runs through Pacific Spirit Park during my PhD program.
Being a public scholar means being a community advocate and using the privileges of the academy to amplify community voices in order to inform community and evidence-based research, programs, and policy.