2016 Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum: Population, Health and Social Change in Eurasia

The 2016 Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum was held during the 17th and 18th of June, and was organized by Cynthia Buckley, a Professor of Sociology, and Paul McNamara, an Associate Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. The main sponsor of the event was the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center (REEEC), while the co-sponsors for this year’s Fisher Forum include the Fisher Forum Endowment, Illinois International Programming, Center for Global Studies, Global Health Initiative, and Russian and East European Institute (REEI) at Indiana University.

Population, Health and Social Change in Eurasia were the central themes of this year’s Fisher Forum. In delving deep into the research regarding the health profiles of countries within Eurasia, the presenters came together to answer these three core questions:

1. What are the positive and negative health legacies of structural change and institutional resilience in Eurasia?
2. What are the processes and interpretations employed by individual actors as they navigate uncertainty and make health related decisions in the Eurasian context?
3. How do the cumulative results of health behaviors in Eurasia confirm, expand or challenge existing theories related to the relationship between economic inequality and health outcomes?

Participants who took on the challenge of addressing these questions, included: Dr. Yuri Frantsuz, a Professor of Social Work at St. Petersburg University of Humanities and Social Sciences, who presented research on The Impact of Income Inequality on Health in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Countries; Dr. William Alex Pridemore, the Dean and Professor of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany – State University of New York, presented on Crime, Justice, and Death in Post-Soviet Russia; Dr. Cynthia Buckley, a Professor of Sociology, REEEC, and LAS Global Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke about Ethnic Differentials in Reported Disability: Insights from Russia and Estonia; Dr. Nicole Butkovich Kraus, an Assistant Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University, examined her research on Xenophobia and Homophobia in the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe; Dr. Jill Owczarzak, an Assistant Professor of Health, Behavior and Society at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Sarah Phillips, a Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, presented together their joint research endeavor on Harm Reduction and the Transformation of Public Health and Governance in Ukraine; Dr. Tricia Starks, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Arkansas, who replaced Dr. Hannah Reiss as a presenter, spoke about Kosmonavty ne kuriat! The Campaign against Smoking in the Late Soviet Period; Dr. Victor Agadjanian, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas, presented on International Migration and Sexual Reproductive Health in Post-Soviet Eurasia; and finally Dr. Theodore Gerber, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, presented data and research regarding Housing and Fertility in Russia, 1992-2013.


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Improvement in Reproductive Health in Central Asia: How Much and for Whom?

Prof. Cynthia Buckley giving her New Directions lecture

Dr. Cynthia Buckley giving her New Directions lecture

Dr. Cynthia Buckley delivered the REEEC New Directions lecture on the evening of January 30 entitled “Improvement in Reproductive Health in Central Asia: How Much and for Whom?” In framing the discussion, Dr. Buckley spoke of the need for partnering qualitative area studies knowledge with quantitative analysis in order to produce an accurate picture of the situation in question. Using both qualitative and quantitative methods, Dr. Buckley’s initiative explores and analyzes reproductive health environments in  Central Asia in addition to conducting a cross-case comparison of individual Central Asian states. Integral to the question of reproductive health is whether Central Asia as a whole has seen a positive change in women’s reproductive rights or, through coercion and exploitation, are those rights still infringed upon?

Though varied throughout Central Asia, generally there is a substantial deficit in reproductive health knowledge. Combined with social and financial impediments to access and implementation, Central Asia is now the only region in the world where documented cases of HIV/AIDS are increasing. Dr. Buckley highlighted how this fact, in company with a host of other problems, runs contrary to the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo, which among other things, recognized women’s reproductive health as a fundamental human right and, for the first time, also included women in the discussion.

The project has a three-tiered approach outline under the following: knowledge, attitudes and practice. The International Conference on Population and Development realized the importance of education, but did not effectively engage the realities of attitudes and practice.  In the  very traditional cultures of Central Asia, the failure to alter attitudes and thus practice meant that access to education and reproductive health care was still not an option for all.  Indeed, throughout Central Asia, access to reproductive healthcare, including education, is still markedly low.  In a place where HIV/AIDS is growing, more than half of all women are unaware of ways to prevent infection.  Furthermore, women who are the beneficiaries of reproductive health services are those already married and financially better positioned.

Generally, attitudes as to the status of women throughout Central Asia have remained constant, meaning that today, most women still do not exercise any control over how many or few children they wish to have. In practice, access to contraceptives is limited and, where available, there is a distinct lack of choice, forcing most women to use IUDs. This is especially true of women who hail from poor social conditions. Political leaders favor the lower birth rate these policies have engendered because of a supposed economic pay-off, premised on the thought that with fewer children, there is not a budgetary strain caused by infrastructure such as schools and day care facilities. However, as noted in the lecture,  with the Central Asian states lacking a liberal economy, a significant percentage of the working class use their skills in Russia and contribute to its economy, instead of their own.

Kate Butterworth is a first-year MA student in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies who is interested in the Caucasus.