"Looking for the mechanisms that underlie the maintenance of policies in times of austerity is not an easy task"

Vanessa Puig-Barrachina

An interview with Vanessa Puig-Barrachina, Agència de Salut Pública de Barcelona (ASPB)

Vanessa Puig-Barrachina is a postdoctoral researcher at the ASPB. She started her participation in SOPHIE during her PhD at GREDS working on employment conditions and health inequalities. Now she is involved in a multiple case study lead by the University of Toronto aimed to understand why and in which contexts, socially generous and redistributive policies have been maintained during the austerity period. Specifically, she is leading the case study on Gender Budgeting Strategy in Andalusia (Spain).


During your PhD at GREDS, you focused your research on studying precarious employment as a social determinant of health inequalities. Could you highlight the most relevant findings of your study?

The most relevant finding was the lack of appropriate data to monitor precarious employment in Europe as a multidimensional concept for public health purposes. Generally, public health researchers are used to measure precarious employment as job insecurity or temporal employment. However, precarious employment encompasses other dimensions, such as the lack of workers' rights and the lack of capacity to exercise them, that are very important to understand workers' health. These conditions are worsening also among workers with indefinite contracts, with negative consequences for health. Researchers at GREDS developed the Employment Precariousness Scale (EPRES) to measure it in Spain. My work, focused on measuring precariousness dimensions with available European data, showed that women, workers without supervisory authority and those living in Eastern and Southern countries - and particularly women in Eastern countries - suffer the highest levels of precarious employment.

Now, you are working as researcher at the ASPB in gender inequalities in health from a perspective of gender policies. Your ongoing project is a realist case study on the gender budgeting in Andalusia. What are the main challenges of this methodology?

The realist methodology aims to understand in which specific contexts and through which social mechanisms some strategies successfully work. In our case study, looking for social mechanisms that underlie the maintenance of the gender budgeting in times of austerity is not an easy task. The gender budgeting in Andalusia is in itself a complex strategy to institutionalize the gender perspective in the government structure. This adds more difficulty to the case study.

During the elaboration of this case study, you have performed interviews with policy-makers and stakeholders. How do you value your experience on doing this field work?

Interviews with stakeholders have probably been the most interesting part of the case study, although the most challenging as well. It was hard to contact them, as some of the interviewed are high level politicians and academic experts. However, doing the interviews by myself allows me to have a complete map in my head of how the gender budgeting was born and how it could be maintained. It is an in-depth knowledge obtained in few days that you cannot get through quantitative data.

From your perspective, what are the most attractive aspects of being involved in a European research project? What have you learnt during your participation?

As a young researcher, one of the most attractive aspects of being involved in the Sophie Project is the opportunity to meet and share ideas face-to-face with senior European researchers, those that have been a referent for me as a student. Moreover, it has allowed me to see the difficulties of coordinating several teams to achieve the project objectives.

You are a young researcher, if you could write your own project, what it would be about?

I have not started to write my own project yet. But if I have learnt something about the Sophie Project is that there is still much room to investigate the impact of structural policies and health inequalities. As a political scientist specialized in health inequalities this is extremely thrilling. I feel very comfortable working on gender policies as well as employment. Nowadays there are interesting and new initiatives regarding gender, family and employment policies, such as the non-transferable parental leave. This policy is expected to improve gender equality in the private sphere, which is our big challenge today. It would be very interesting to analyze the impacts of non-transferable leave in several domains including health equity. Moreover, what I have noticed working on gender equity policies and health is that our research is still mainly focused on a heterosexual context. In that sense, opening research to other realities is also very challenging.


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