Promoting an egalitarian approach to research with vulnerable populations of women


L. Mkandawire-Valhmu: e-mail:


Title. Promoting an egalitarian approach to research with vulnerable populations of women

Aim.  This paper is a presentation of issues that arise when conducting research with women from vulnerable populations.

Background.  Conducting research with ethnic minority populations has accentuated the challenges inherent in research, particularly when the populations participating are considered ‘vulnerable’ due to additional variables such as low levels of income.

Data sources.  The paper is based on the experiences of three authors using feminist methods in separate but similar research trajectories that include (a) low-income women in the Southern African country of Malawi, (b) women diagnosed with schizophrenia in the United States of America, and (c) rural, indigenous Aymara women of the highlands of Peru. The data forming the basis of this paper were collected over 3- to 6-month periods between 2005 and 2006.

Discussion.  We examine the impact of the researcher’s power on the research process. Our research provides examples that illuminate the limitations of informed consent in research with vulnerable populations of women. We offer critical questions about and recommendations for nursing and other health care researchers, both in the third world and the western world, regarding appropriate research methods with vulnerable populations: methods that acknowledge the oppressive realities of the participants, methods that deliberately avoid further marginalization of participants, and methods that have the potential to improve the life situations of the women who participate in our research.

Conclusion.  These examples show the need for new methods to ensure that participants in research understand their role and the benefits they may expect to receive from research.