Summary of My Research Presentation at International Conferences (PPT Deck Included)

As part of my “11th month of service” made possible by AIF and the Rural India Supporting Trust (RIST) to recently returned AIF Fellows in order to amplify the impact and learnings gained during the fellowship program, I took part in two virtual conferences these last couple of months. They were originally supposed to be in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Bangkok, Thailand, which of course would have been incredible. But, like so many anticipated events this year, 2020 ran it over with its own plans. Instead, I took part in the Conference of Gender & Sexuality and the International Conference on Public Health from my California bedroom. Since the conference still operated in Sri Lanka / Bangkok time, I was awake and discussing menstruation, reproductive health, and sexual abuse prevention at around 12:45am Pacific Standard Time.

Is it bad blood? Attitudes toward Menstruation Reproductive Health, and Sexual Abuse Prevention among Caretakers of Women with Disabilities in Rural Puducherry.

My full presentation deck is viewable here: Is it Bad Blood? Presentation of Research by Srisruthi Ramesh

I’ve never participated in a research conference before, let alone presented at one. I wrote a previous post about the process of figuring out research without the researcher credentials. I felt a lot of imposter syndrome being invited to present as a researcher when my academic credentials still just say Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts. When this started gnawing away at me, I tried to invoke a Bay Area tech entrepreneurs attitude to this, which is to say that while pedigree and prestige is good, results are often better. I told myself it is more audacious to be the youngest in the room, and get to learn from those I was with, rather than put myself in the corner for not having enough letters after my name.

The conferences have been a while in the making. I applied to several research conferences back in January and February, before our world was permanently altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted an avenue to share the research study that came out of my AIF Fellowship project because I felt like it was a really niche space—assessing that knowledge and attitudes toward menstrual hygiene, reproductive health, and sexual abuse prevention among caretakers of women with disabilities in rural Puducherry. I had tried and failed to find studies to replicate. But no one was talking about menstrual hygiene, reproductive health, and sexual abuse prevention for women with disabilities in rural settings. There was some research on various combinations of this. Several studies on menstrual hygiene, reproductive health, and sexual abuse prevention in rural populations; some on general access to health and safety for women with disabilities. Still, this research felt really necessary for its novel take, and I hope it can be something others look at to continue research that supports the needs of women with disabilities in rural communities.

Brief Summary of my Study: “Is it Bad Blood?”

The first conference I presented at was the Gender and Sexuality Conference, hosted by the Asian-African Association for Women, Gender and Sexuality (AAAWGS) and organized by the International Institute of Knowledge Management (TIIKM) from October 14-15, 2020. Most of the attendees and researchers were from social work and gender backgrounds, and as such, I focused the discussion of my findings on how it related to these disciplines. For the second conference, the International Conference on Public Health, hosted by Taylor’s University Malaysia and University of Indonesia, and organized by TIIKM from November 23-24, 2020,  I took a more public health approach given the conference theme and participants.

Data visualization was an important tool I utilized to make this presentation adaptable to different crowds, and to present complicated data sets in an engaging way. I got some really valuable advice from a friend who works in data visualization about how to present data in an actually engaging way, using data to tell a story. As a researcher, I think this is probably the most valuable skill because while you may care about the data you’re collecting, when it comes to development and social science research especially, you need other people to care about it also. And to do that, you need stories.

There is a real power in story telling for social change. Recently, I’ve been into this a lot, too, and thinking about ways I want to use the power of storytelling to drive meaningful social change with regards to sharing of new perspectives, growing empathy for others from different walks of life, and understanding the choices people make through hearing their stories. I tried to look at my data in the same way. What were really the questions driving the structure of my research? I narrowed it down to these essential questions:

  1. What do the lives of these caretakers look like?
  2. How do these caretakers feel about managing menstrual hygiene, reproductive health, and sexual abuse prevention for their daughters?
  3. What are common practices around menstruation in this community about?
  4. How does knowledge and attitudes align to behaviors?

Final Reflections

This last question ended up being the most pivotal for the “I Too Am a Woman” initiative, because we learned that the caretakers had a fairly solid understanding of menstruation, at least biologically. We also found that they were in between holding strong ties to regressive stigmas and myths about periods and actively dismantling these by rejecting the practices that stem from them. For example, historically, many communities in India viewed menstruation as an impurity, and enforced strict restrictions on a woman’s behavior during her period. Many of the women we spoke to shared their experiences with this; they were not allowed to enter their bedrooms or kitchens, some even had to sleep outside and use the showers before anyone in their households woke up. However, they also sometimes indicated that they believed these restrictions were excessive or unfounded. They certainly found them burdensome. So this begged the question of whether they would enforce these practices if in charge of their household (rather than their husband or in-laws), or if they would teach their daughters them. Perhaps, with more science to back them up and a better delivery system of that science—such as discussions and awareness workshops in their communities—we are close to changing practices toward menstrual hygiene, reproductive healthcare, and sexual abuse prevention to a one that prioritizes women’s well-being. After spending 10 months speaking with these resilient and courageous women, I for one am optimistic this is the case.

My full presentation deck is viewable here: Is it Bad Blood? Presentation of Research by Srisruthi Ramesh

Srisruthi presenting on Zoom with her 4 co-presenters. Contact details: srisruthi.ramesh@gmail.com. srisruthiramesh.wordpress.com. Social media: @sriisruthi.

Srisruthi "Sri" Ramesh is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Satya Special School in Karuvadikuppam, Puducherry. For her Fellowship project, she is creating a training manual on menstrual hygiene management and sexual reproduction to educate adolescent girls with disabilities, their parents, and their care givers. Sri is a San Francisco Bay Area native with family roots in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. She is passionate about ethics, gender, and development in South Asia. While in college, Sri founded a student organization for careers in social impact and was awarded a university fellowship to work at Equal Community Foundation, a Pune-based non-profit focused on gender equality. After graduating, Sri worked at Ernst & Young and later spent a month reading and writing on an island in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys cooking and baking, reading historical fiction, and doing armchair philosophy with friends who will indulge her. She is very excited to be a part of the AIF Clinton Fellowship community, explore new places in India, and improve her Tamil. She hopes to pursue research on development in South Asia after her Fellowship year.

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