October 17, 2017

Zika Vaccine, Partner Violence Subjects of Gender Justice Initiative Research Colloquium

The risks and benefits of pregnant women’s participation in clinical trials and intimate partner violence were only two of the subjects explored at Georgetown’s Gender+ Justice Initiative’s (GJI) Second Annual Faculty Research Colloquium on October 13.

Now an annual event, the colloquium brings together faculty and other scholars working on gender justice from across the Main Campus, the Medical Center, and Georgetown Law Center.

Founded in 2015, GJI seeks to make Georgetown a hub of knowledge production, community engagement, and policy development on issues of gender, racial, and economic justice.

“The purpose of the colloquium every fall [is] to lift up and celebrate the dynamic gender justice scholarship that’s already going on across the three campuses,” said Denise Brennan, chair of the Department of Anthropology and a GJI organizer.

Gender Justice Issues

Marisha Wickremsinhe (NHS’15), a research associate at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, presented her research at the colloquium on the ethical relationship between pregnant women and clinical trials, such as those for a Zika virus vaccine.

“In every clinical trial that has been put forth for the Zika virus vaccine that are currently under development, pregnant women have been excluded,” Wickremsinhe explained. “That means when these vaccines come to market, we don’t have any data on the safety and efficacy of how these vaccines work in pregnant women.”

Jeni Klugman, managing director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, explored how combating intimate partner violence around the world will take more than just changing laws.

“[Laws] seem to be a vehicle to change norms and to lead to the reduction of the risk of violence over time, yet clearly not enough,” Klugman said. “We need a supportive legal environment more broadly and a multipronged approach which address other sources of discrimination as well.”

Gender, Race, and Marginalization

Georgetown Law professor Nan D. Hunter, another GJI organizer, talked about the legal and cultural evolution of “intersectionality,” a term coined by Columbia School of Law professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe the intersection of social identities and their related systems of oppression.

“[Crenshaw] originally came to intersectionality, as she herself has described, in a way that one might think of as providing the clearest meaning of it—that is, the idea of intersectional as multiple vectors of marginalization,” Hunter explained. “Over time, ‘intersectionality’ has also come to denote how the convergence of such vectors produces effects that are compounded and embedded.”

Other presentations included the politics of discriminatory public housing and literary, social, and legal representations of people of color. 

Collaborative Efforts

Colloquium organizers hope GJI will become a hub for researchers who are passionate about these issues across the university.

“Partly it’s about being able to get to know each other and getting to know each other’s work,” said Naomi Mezey, a Georgetown law professor and GJI organizer. “That feels so crucial to me being across campus at the Law Center.”

Kristi Graves, an associate professor of oncology at the School of Medicine, a GJI organizer, and president of Georgetown Women in Medicine, echoed Mezey’s excitement about collaboration and discussion across the university.

“Now is the time when we can turn to our communities and really find out what we need to do to move gender justice forward at Georgetown,” said Graves. “And so it’s through those collaborative efforts and cross-campus dialogues that I think that will happen.”

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