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At the Intersection of Health and Gender in the Middle East in the Midst of Military, Economic and Natural Disasters

Panel IV-15, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The field of the social studies of health in the Middle East has come a long way from the days when it was a niche specialization. More recently, it has expanded at a dramatic rate because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Never before has there been this many courses offered on the social studies of health in the Middle East writ large at universities around the world, of students interested in the subject and of scholars specializing in one or another of its subfields. On the other hand, the body of literature on gender in the Middle East is rich and has a long genealogy in Middle East studies. Furthermore, scholars of gender were among the first to pose questions about health, medicine and the body in the Middle East, because of theoretical perspectives of gender studies and realities of inequalities in the social world they were working in. This panel poses questions at the intersection of these two bodies of literature. The panel asks: What is health and what is gender in the context of the recent military, political, economic, sanitary and natural disasters of the region? The panel will reflect on why one would study health and gender and what are the possible theoretical nexuses and accessible research sites at the intersection of these concepts in today’s Middle East. It will also address the difficulties of doing field research in the current conditions of war, authoritarianism, earthquakes and poverty in the region. It will bring together empirical case studies from various communities in the region (including Jerusalemites in Kufr Aqab, kidney transplant patients in Istanbul, Syrian refugees in Turkey and Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Jordan) and foreground the conceptual and self-reflexive. The papers in the panel will be grounded in the disciplines of anthropology and sociology and will present case studies of health and illnesses in different sites of the region and explore how inequalities of gender, class and nationality play themselves out in those sites
  • War and displacement have profound and multidimensional effects on health, ranging from more immediate and direct injury and trauma to longer-term impacts on health and wellbeing. The impacts of war and displacement can be especially pronounced among adolescents, as this is a critical transitional period where girls experience key physiological changes that often coincide with important changes in their relationships, roles, and identities vis a vis their families and societies. In this study, we explore the health of adolescent refugee adolescent girls residing in Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank and Jordan. We conducted a qualitative study consisting of 39 in-depth interviews and 24 focus group discussions (with over 200 girls) throughout 29 Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank and Jordan. We focus on how adolescent girls navigate social and political conditions in their daily lives-including patriarchal restrictions, chronic displacement, political violence, the stigma of being a camp dweller, and living conditions in camps- and the implications for their mental health and well-being. The narratives of the girls highlight the important role of the sociocultural and political contexts girls live within in shaping girls’ experiences of adolescence and puberty. Girls consistently referred to feeling suffocated particularly after reaching puberty, often marked by the beginning of menstruation. This period was characterized by increased restrictions on girls’ mobility and freedom. Their mobility was further restricted by concerns over community surveillance given the close-knit nature of camp communities in addition to the overcrowding, and limited infrastructure of the camps. Many times, girls refer to this critical juncture as an end to their childhood and the relative freedom that was associated with it. They discussed how they were told that they were now sabaya and with that came a different set of responsibilities and societal expectations. This was especially the case in more isolated camps, particularly in Jordan. While girls often understood these concerns as a manifestation of their parents being protective of them, they often struggled to come to terms with these new expectations and their evolving identities. The experiences of these girls push us to think critically about agency, resilience, and mental health through an intersectional lens. They also echo Suad Joseph’s work on relational connectivity in various ways.
  • In this talk, I aim to explore the common patterns in social science articles which focus on gender and health issues of Syrian refugees in Turkey, and discuss how these works contribute to the refugee studies, gender studies, medical anthropology and medical sociology. Syrian refugees are particularly stigmatized and experience inequalities and discriminations in accessing reproductive and sexual health care services. Within the framework of anti-refugee, anti-Syrian sentiments, Syrian women were often blamed for giving birth to too many children, expecting the Turkish state to take care of them, in the mainstream and social media. Rapes during the migration process and unwanted pregnancies, early marriages and problems in accessing birth control are other issues discussed in the literature with respect to Syrian women’s sexual and reproductive health problems. Through an applied anthropology perspective, the talk will analyze the theoretical frameworks of these articles in terms of what other social and cultural concepts the authors benefited from in studying gender and health, such as precarity, dignity and safety. It will also delve into specific methodological issues, including the problems the authors experienced in their research process. For instance, many authors state that they could not obtain official permissions to study, conduct interviews with political authorities or had access to the refugee camps, which led them to develop new strategies in their research methods. These problems are also related to the larger political and social context in contemporary Turkey, which also shape the popular ideological conceptions of refugees and their everyday experiences. The talk will also address the theoretical and conceptual gaps in this literature, and how this literature may help in making the Syrian refugee voices heard more and experiences understood better in academic context and public realm in the future.
  • Turkey has an advanced medical infrastructure and qualified medical staff in organ transplantation and dialysis. There is an undercurrent to this biomedical success. Most chronic kidney patients on dialysis have refakatçis, i.e., attendants who are often female family members. When these chronic patients seek an organ for transplantation, it is often woman family members who volunteer to donate their organs. When talking to or about refakatçis or discussing the medical conditions of organ donors, doctors frequently utilize normative ideas about gendered expectations and obligations within the family. Drawing upon ethnographic research in a state-funded transplant unit and a dialysis center in Istanbul in 2017, this paper examines the centrality of familial and gendered care and sacrifice for the sustainability of the biomedical system. Within the broader context of Turkey’s integration into the neoliberal moral order, i.e., commercialization of healthcare and a greater reliance on the family, this paper argues that biomedical care for patients with chronic kidney diseases unfolds within a complex network of gendered familial obligations and expectations at every biomedical stage. Questioning approaches that oppose intimate familial care and biomedical cure, this article theorizes the role of gendered familial care as a central element of biomedical apparatuses and practices in the case of chronic kidney diseases.
  • Jerusalemite Palestinian’s only ‘legal’ bond to the state and access to their city is through ‘permanent residency status’ – a precarious status which may be revoked at the discretion of the Israeli Interior Minister. Furthermore, the historical trajectory of Israeli policies since the 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem has created a situation in which Palestinian Jerusalemites have gradually been encouraged to move to areas beyond the Separation Wall, ultimately displacing thousands and effectively containing them in a series of enclaves. Drawing on empirical material collected as part of a broader study exploring displaced young adults’ lived experiences within these enclaves, I explore the notion of ‘slow violence’ in relation to their precarious legal status and the ways in which it is gendered. The paper explores themes related to the specific anxieties, trauma and strategies relating to childbearing and bringing up children in a militarized context. Further, it explores narratives of younger (and often men) participants reflecting on their experiences in dealing with political violence throughout their childhood, articulating interactions with the security apparatus, as well as exposure to acute violence and experiences of child imprisonment. The ways in which this violence is understood as seeping into their individual future trajectories (including employment and gendered expectations around breadwinning) and modes of parenting and survival, disrupting family structures and compromising parents’ ability to protect their children in a context of precarity is explored. Through the narratives presented, the paper explores questions at the intersections of gender, parenting, health and protection within this context.