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Human rights and reproductive health intersect in DrPH student Bhavya Joshi’s work

As a recipient of fellowships from the Center for Global Public Health, Bixby Center, and Human Rights Center, UC Berkeley School of Public Health DrPH student Bhavya Joshi’s research integrates human rights with sexual and reproductive health to understand how political crises affect women’s reproductive rights.

Joshi’s work looks at how political turmoil negatively affects sexual and reproductive health and rights. Women and children represent the majority of refugees globally, making them an important population of interest for her doctoral research. For example, she spent last summer in Croatia meeting with Ukrainian refugees because the Russia-Ukraine conflict posed a timely case study to examine women’s reproductive health amid government instability.

For now, Joshi runs online educational trainings for the Women’s Human Rights Institute and is looking forward to her first in-person training later this year at Oxford University. Next, she’ll travel to South Sudan to collect more data and refine her reproductive health research.

A native of India, Joshi earned her bachelor’s degree in political science at Delhi University in 2013. A year later, she enrolled at University for Peace, a graduate research university in Costa Rica founded by the United Nations General Assembly, to pursue her master’s degree in human rights and international law. The shift to reproductive health was, as Joshi described it, an “organic journey.”

“I first learned about reproductive health through the lens of human rights,” she said. She  didn’t fully dedicate herself to women’s health until after she completed her master’s program and began doing fieldwork for various research organizations in India.

Joshi  was especially interested in women’s health because “growing up, I was particularly deprived of any sexual education or knowledge of reproductive health. [I] want to make women reproductively informed and empowered.”

Before beginning her doctoral program in 2021, Joshi worked for seven years on public health projects in India that focused on reproductive, family planning, and maternal and child health.  Working in India gave her unique insight on the health services in her home country, which can be disconnected and vary greatly across the country.

Away from India’s urban centers, Joshi saw religious and patriarchal ideology preventing many women from receiving the care they needed. Cultural barriers—such as lack of knowledge or stigma about the female body among both men and women—leave healthcare services fragmented and “dysfunctional,” Joshi said. . Limited state funding and international aid often fail to consider reproductive health holistically, Joshi said,, and foreign donations too often view women’s health narrowly rather than encompassing the entirety of the life cycle–from menstruation to menopause.

After Joshi receives her DrPH, she plans to continue working in global reproductive health and to become an expert on women’s human rights at the United Nations.