Across international boundaries and vastly different cultures, Oregon State University’s Meghan Fitzgerald is taking on the challenges of sexual violence, gender equality and empowerment.
As a graduate assistant for Student Health Services on campus, Fitzgerald has helped raise awareness and education about sexual violence prevention through programs like Take Back the Night. The annual event attracted around 500 people this year, far more than in the past.
Fitzgerald earned a master’s degree from the College of Public Health and Human Sciences in 2014 and recently completed her first year in the health policy Ph.D. program.
Fitzgerald’s passion for women’s health issues is global. As part of her master’s program, she completed a two-month internship for the United Nations, working on gender-based violence education, gender empowerment and economic skill-building programs with Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Fitzgerald found the women perceived many barriers to empowerment in their culture, and they often didn’t report instances of domestic violence.
For her Ph.D. dissertation, Fitzgerald plans to return to Jordan to carry out focus group discussions with women in the northern town of Irbid. She will also collect quantitative data to determine if there is a relationship between women’s perceptions of gender equity and their knowledge and use of reproductive health services. She believes the research will give voice to a marginalized population and could help change policies that hinder women’s empowerment and create barriers to a healthy life and community.
“I think sometimes people at the policy level don’t think of empowerment and social justice as health concerns,” Fitzgerald says. “Research and experience show that cultural beliefs and attitudes dictate the health of a community.
“I’m so glad I landed here at OSU at this time in my life. I can’t think of a greater privilege than being able to commit my days to shaping the world into something a little more humane, a little more just and a lot more meaningful.”