McMaster University

McMaster University

Women’s mental health beyond our borders

By Amanda Boundris

May 18, 2012

Farhana Madhani with son Faizaan and daughter Eman
McMaster PhD nursing student Farhana Madhani with her 11-year-old son, Faizaan, and daughter Eman, 7.

Farhana Madhani is hard at work here in Hamilton, with big dreams of improving women’s health back home in Pakistan.

Madhani is a nurse educator from Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi, Pakistan who has been in Hamilton working on her PhD with the McMaster School of Nursing since September 2010.

McMaster has a long history with AKU, having assisted with the development of the first Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program in Pakistan in the 1980s.

Madhani’s research is focused on the impact of microcredit financing on the mental health of Pakistani women. Microcredit financing involves giving very small loans to poor borrowers who typically lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history. It was designed to foster entrepreneurship, increase incomes, alleviate poverty, and to empower women.

Madhani said many Pakistani women receiving these loans have already dealt with gender inequality; financial dependency, first on their fathers and then their husbands; lack of empowerment; and partner violence. "I’m interested to know, if these women are given economic empowerment through these loans, what happens to their mental health?" she explained.

It is questionable whether their mental health improves, said Madhani, because when combining their already existing life stresses with the stress from the additional financial responsibility that comes with taking a loan, women face challenges in coping. Madhani’s definition of mental health is not limited to simply the absence of a mental disorder. It includes an integration of satisfactory levels of psychosocial and emotional functioning, and the absence of intimate partner violence.

It is a big effort for Madhani to be away from home with her daughter Eman, 7, and son Faizaan, 11, while her husband Irfan visits the family occasionally.

Madhani noted her children’s adjustment to living in Hamilton temporarily has been an easy one, but admitted, "It is tough to balance my student role and the role of a mother."

Often she can be found studying at the Westdale Branch of the Hamilton Public Library while her kids read or work on a computer nearby. "They’re good readers," she said. "They’re going to miss the libraries the most."

Madhani expects to complete her PhD in 2014. She then plans to return to Pakistan to work as a researcher and educator at AKU to reform the nursing curriculum there, and create a multidisciplinary approach to improving women’s health.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Level Double-A conformance, W3C WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0