By: Ema Kuczura and Sarah Hubner 

When we entered the Student Research Training Program, we were preparing ourselves to deal with many challenges, including learning new research skills and navigating cultural differences. Working with DGHI Doctoral Scholar, Kelly Hunter, our goal was to understand the impact of the Global Gag Rule on health care providers and non-governmental organizations in Western Kenya. The Global Gag Rule formally referred to as the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy, “aims to ensure that US tax-payer funding does not support foreign non-governmental organizations that perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning” (Michael Pompeo, US Secretary of State). We were planning on using our time in Kisumu to conduct in-person interviews with stakeholders in the reproductive health sector.

However, when we heard the news that pandemic would make it impossible to travel to Kenya as we initially anticipated, we knew achieving the goals we set forth for the summer would require newfound creativity and flexibility. From our dining room tables in Chicago and Dallas, we set out to examine the consequences of the Global Gag rule on sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kenya without ever having stepped foot in the country. We did so with new considerations in mind: namely the interaction of the policy with the COVID-19 pandemic and the constraints of remote research. 

As a team, we faced unforeseen challenges and benefits to this adapted work plan. Among the challenges were pushing through early morning wake-ups (with Kenya being 8 hours ahead) and learning how to have sensitive conversations over Zoom. Eventually, we were able to adapt; the early mornings got easier and we found ways to build trust with our counterparts in Kenya. These challenges were also coupled with unique benefits. We found that we were able to broaden the scope of our research, interviewing stakeholders from all over Kenya and connecting virtually with other Global Gag Rule researchers as part of the Global Gag Rule Research Working Group. 

The remote nature of our work this summer also gave us the opportunity to continue this learning experience throughout our senior year. Now back in Durham, we meet and work together through an independent study (yes, still virtually). As of now, we have conducted thirty interviews. Some of the most notable themes that have emerged include increased barriers to inter-organization collaboration, restricted funding landscapes, and the heightened strain of the COVID-19 pandemic on already vulnerable populations. We are grateful to be able to transition our work from the summer seamlessly into the school year, and we are excited to continue learning more about the implications of the Global Gag Rule in the time of COVID. We have submitted for publishing and hope to share more of our findings in later installments.

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