Participatory Health Research With Mothers Living in Poverty in the Netherlands: Pathways and Challenges to Strengthen Empowerment

  • Barbara Groot Amsterdam UMC
  • Tineke Abma Amsterdam UMC
Keywords: participatory health research, mothers, poverty, relational empowerment, epistemic justice, ethics


Empowerment of people in challenging circumstances is a central premise of participatory health research (PHR). Empowerment, a process of strengthening vis-à-vis one's social environment, has three components: personal, relational, and political. The current PHR study was conducted with mothers living in unfortunate situations in the Netherlands. In this article, we describe how PHR fostered personal empowerment to a certain degree by 1. setting an agenda for the project (ownership), and 2. listening to and acknowledging the articulation of the participants' own story and a collective story about their issues (epistemic justice). One result of the study is that achieving relational and political empowerment can be challenging. Relational tensions in the group distracted us. Conducting critical reflection on more structural causes of the unfortunate situations of the mothers is a process that needs time and calls for relational sensitivity and inclusion. The participatory researcher as facilitator focused on ethics and tried to collaborate with creative outsiders to change the disharmony in the group. Reaching relational and political empowerment is a long-term process in PHR, but not without stumbling blocks on the journey.


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Author Biographies

Barbara Groot, Amsterdam UMC

Barbara GROOT is a researcher at Amsterdam UMC, VU University Medical Centre, Department of Medical Humanities, The Netherlands. She works on her thesis on participatory health research and ethics. Barbara coordinates the Centre of Client Experiences in Amsterdam and is involved in many participatory research projects in different sectors. She teaches participatory and qualitative research.

Tineke Abma, Amsterdam UMC

Tineke ABMA is a professor for participation & diversity and senior researcher at the Amsterdam Amsterdam Public Health Institute. Tineke is a member of the ICPHR consortium and worked lately on two books with others about "Evaluation for a Caring Society" and "Participatory Research of Health and Well-being."

How to Cite
Groot, B., & Abma, T. (2020). Participatory Health Research With Mothers Living in Poverty in the Netherlands: Pathways and Challenges to Strengthen Empowerment. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 21(1).