When We Listen: A Reflection on Health Economics & Social Justice by Taq Kaur Bhandal

Taq Kaur Bhandal is CEO of the Mahwari Research Institute, an independent Canadian think tank studying pleasure, periods, and planetary positivity, all through the intention of social justice. To connect with Taq visit: https://mahwariresearchinstitute.ca/


In 2020, I was asked by a dear colleague to facilitate the second in a three-part series of Listen Events organized by the BC SUPPORT Unit Health Economics and Simulation Modelling Methods Cluster. The purpose of these events, which took place in spring and summer 2021 on Zoom, is to provide an opportunity for individuals and groups whose voices are not always heard to speak with health economists, on their terms, about the issues they want to raise. The first event comprised discussions with leaders from diverse Indigenous communities, the second with members of the UBC Social Justice Institute; the third event will be taking place on June 29, 2021, and involve community stakeholders representing Black-led non-profits and social justice groups as well as members of the Black community of BC at large. In this blog post, I share three reflections I, Taq Kaur Bhandal, learned as a participant and witness at the first event and facilitator of the second event (with members of the UBC Social Justice Institute).


I can name here that I currently live on Mi’kmaq Treaty Territories in Halifax, Canada, where I continue to teach and write on the topics of social justice, sustainability, pelvic health, and mental health & addictions. Mere poorvaj tan tubar (my ancestors and family) are from the Punjab region of modern day India and Pakistan. We came to the current borders of Canada primarily due to ongoing persecution of Sikh religious minorities in our homelands. Today, I write this blog post while holding the tension of being a settler, displaced person, and diaspora. My reflections below come from this body of experience.


Reflection # 1: We can listen for guidance.


In the Listen Event I facilitated, I noticed how I was able to open up and hold space for multiple perspectives and answers to questions about social justice. Through the process of listening (not just waiting to speak), my body shifted and I found myself releasing limiting beliefs about what is possible in the field of health economics. In this way, I can reflect that when we listen (and tune out the static of our defensive ego), we can hear the guidance on how to engage in research, teaching, and everyday life with social justice in mind.


Reflection # 2: Working together across university departments is no longer optional. It’s essential.


The Listen Events team met through shared connections at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. Both institutions are located in Metro Vancouver, Canada on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), Qayqayt, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen peoples. By acknowledging the land and First Peoples, we can make conscious the reality of Canadian universities as places where social and environmental injustices are produced.


At the same time, through my own academic and personal life, I’ve discovered that universities can also be places where we can train ourselves to actually unlearn harm, violence, scarcity thinking and re-learn social justice, abundance, and healthy relationships with land. In the case of health economics, the Listen Events taught me that this can happen through an awareness & acceptance of our own positionalities (social identity in the world). Moreover, through taking radical action towards creating solidarities and alliances across departmental “borders”.


Reflection # 3: We can circulate university funding with intention.


Finally, from my standpoint, the Listen Events also provided an example of how academic funding can be circulated intentionally towards social justice. We made sure facilitators and participants were paid generously for time. As a facilitator, I also inquired and encouraged the group to name self-care (listening & caring for our bodies/minds/souls). I understand this as a reflection of how there is always enough money to create the futures/worlds/health/healthy economies/health care systems we know are theoretically possible.


In conclusion, the Listen Event created space for reflection and personal growth in three ways. First, I found that when I listen deeply and with intention, I can hear guidance on how to engage in research, teaching, and health economics practice with social justice in mind and body. Second, working together across university departments is no longer optional. It’s essential. Third, we can circulate university funding and health care funding in a way that honours the principles and practices of social justice. I truly appreciate you taking the time to read my reflections, and I can sense that something has shifted with you as well. Now I will pass it on to you: What reflections (in body and mind) came up for you while taking in the When We Listen blog post? Feel free to share them with me!