Denise Spitzer, PhD, MA, BA, BSc

Professor, School of Public Health

Pronouns: she/her/hers/elle


Professor, School of Public Health


Area of Study / Keywords

Critical Medical Anthropology Feminist and Gender Studies Migration Studies


I am a critical feminist medical anthropologist by training and inclination. Using a dynamic, multi-scalar lens, I am interested in examining how global processes—intersecting with gender, racialization, migration status, sexuality, ethnicity, and other social identifiers—are implicated in health and wellbeing. 

My current program of research focuses on the impact of the global economy on immigrants, migrants and refugees in different parts of the globe—most notably Southeast and East Asia, Canada and the Horn of Africa—and engages with critical perspectives of the body, transnationalism and constructions of identity; the impact of policy on health; community-based participatory research; and intersectional analysis. 

In addition to my role as professor in the School of Public Health, I am an adjunct professor in the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa. Formerly, I served as the Canada Research Chair in Gender, Migration and Health and as Principal Scientist in the Institute of Population Health from 2005-2015.


PhD (Anthropology), University of Alberta, 1998

MA (Anthropology), University of Alberta, 1993

BA (Chinese Language and Literature), University of Alberta, 1991

BSc (Biology), University of Alberta, 1978




global health


participatory research

qualitative research

visual storytelling

impact of neoliberal globalization and polices on health and well-being

Scholarly Activities

Research - Canadian Mines, Global Issues: An Examination of Policy Context and the Social, Health, and Environmental Effects of Canadian Mining in Three Focal Communities in Brazil, the Kyrgyz Republic, and the Philippines.

2023-07-01 to 2025-07-01

Canada hosts over half of the world’s mining companies, active in over100 countries. With international assets valued at $170 billion, Canadian mining operations contributed $97 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2017. While the economic benefits accrue to corporate and state interests, mining often occurs in remote and rural areas inhabited by Indigenous and other minoritized and/or marginalized communities, and has been linked to worsening health, social, and environmental conditions.Too few evidence-based practices have been identified that monitor and report on the health and social outcomes of mining within national and international policy and regulatory contexts. Given Canada's prominence in the global mining industry, we have an opportunity—and obligation— to move Canadian transnational mining practices towards greater environmental and community health and wellbeing.Goals: The goal of this proposal is to analyze the effects of Canadian transnational mining practices onlocal communities through a comparative case study in three countries (Brazil, Kyrgyz Republic, Philippines) to inform policies and practices that will mitigate environmental, health, and social harms.

Research - Endemicity, Care, and Gender: Developing a Roadmap for the Resilience of the Malaysian Care Sector.

2022-10-01 to 2025-05-01

Working with the Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) in Malaysia along with the Universiti Malaya and policymakers from the Government of Malaysia, this IDRC-funded WomenRISE research team is exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women engaged in paid and unpaid care work across peninsular and eastern Malaysia. This participatory research project aims to inform national policy and raise awareness of the presence and value of gendered care work in Malaysian society.

Research - Forced Sterilization and Coerced Contraception: Towards a Multinational Agenda —funded by the Kule Institute for Advanced Studies

2021 to 2023

Principal Investigator

Non-consensual control over women's reproduction comprises a continuum of practices including forced sterilization and coerced contraception (FSCC). Although the full extent of these state-sanctioned practices is yet to be uncovered, Indigenous, migrant and rural poor women appear to be particular targets of these interventions. Our team of researchers, advocates, and health practitioners are engaging with survivors of FSCC in Canada, Indonesia, and Peru using arts-based methods. The project culminates in an international summit, the goal of which is to generate a survivor-centred research agenda.

Research - Intersections of Gender, Work, and Health: Migrant Beer Sellers in Southeast Asia, funded by CIHR Operating Grant

2014 to 2019

Principal Investigator

Throughout Southeast Asia, young women, primarily rural-to-urban migrants work, often on commission, selling beer in bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other venues.  Employing and training migrant beer sellers as research assistants, we are documenting the workplace hazards faced by migrant women beer sellers in different types of venues in three Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos). In addition to generating recommendations to mitigate the deleterious aspects of beer sellers’ work, this research contributes to our understanding of how gender, work, and health intersect with other social identifiers such as socioeconomic class, migrant status, geography, sexuality and culture.   

Research - Investigating Community-Engaged COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Models Among Marginalized Newcomer Communities: Employment, Community and Mobile-Based Approaches.

2021-09-01 to 2023-09-01

Working with co-principal investigators, Dr. Gabriel Fabreau (U Calgary) and Dr. Kevin Pottie (Western U), and our team of Calgary-based community scholars, we are: examining how COVID-19 vaccine outreach clinics may help enhance access and overcome vaccine hesitancy among vaccinated newcomers; investigating both vaccine acceptance and vaccine hesitancy factors and barriers among vaccine-hesitant and unvaccinated newcomers; and collaborating with community partners to develop context-specific and generalizable recommendations for newcomer vaccination outreach strategies to enhance access and address vaccine hesitancy.

Research - Lives of Migrant Remittances: An Asian Comparative Study, funded by SSHRC Insight Grant

2017 to 2022

Principal Investigator

Migration has been promoted as a tool of development by a host of global institutions and is embraced both by labour migrant sending and receiving countries. The empirical evidence, however, in support of this assertion remains scant, and that which exists indicates mixed results. We focus on Hong Kong, a major migrant labour hub to investigate and compare interconnected transnational social fields that link migrants, families, governments, and institutions from, across, and within the two largest migrant sending countries in the region---the Philippines and Indonesia.

Research - POETRY (Poly-Occularity Engagement and Transnational Research Yearnings): Innovations in Research Across Community-Academic Divides

2022-04-01 to 2023-03-31

Principal Investigator

The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to stalk our SSHRC-funded, transnational participatory research project, Lives of Migrant Remittances (LOMR), which engages academic and community partners in Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Completing fieldwork in Asia as flights were cancelled and borders were closing, community partners importantly prioritized the immediate needs of the migrants they serve.Plans for in-person participatory data analysis were halted, necessitating the development of innovative research strategies that still embraced the tenets of feminist participatory research. Poly-occular engagement and transnational research yearnings (POETRY) emerged from these challenges. Drawing inspiration from Indigenous/Western Two-Eyed Seeing, POETRY brings multiple epistemologies into conversation to creatively transgress boundaries and generate research that addresses our yearnings for a more just world

Research - The Ottawa Ogaden Region Research Partnership, funded by SSHRC Partnership Development Grant.

2014 to 2019

Principal Investigator

Located in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, Denan, which serves as a centre of education, health care and community economic development, is at once a medical outpost and the town that has grown around it. We are undertaking an examination of Denan as a case study through which we can illuminate the impact of this health/community centre model on the local population and the livelihoods that sustain it. Furthermore, we work to create a more equitable international academic-NGO partnership by developing a model of community-based participatory research grounded in local conditions and talents, and engaging in reciprocal knowledge exchange.

Research - Visioning Health II: Indigenous, Participatory Evaluation and Assessment of a Culturally-Grounded and Arts-Informed Intervention for HIV-Positive Aboriginal Women.

2015 to 2019


Visioning Health II supports and evaluates a strengths-based, arts-informed, and culturally-grounded community-based participatory research project that explores the meaning and experience of health and wellness from the perspective of Positive Aboriginal Women (PAW). Guided by a decolonizing and Indigenous approach to research, VH II also explores the role of culture and gender in creating, supporting and maintaining PAWs' health and wellness.

Featured Publications

COVID-19 and the Intersections of Gender, Migration Status, Work, and Place.

Spitzer, DL

In M. McAuliffe, C. Bauloz (eds.) Research Handbook on Migration, Gender and COVID-19. London: Elgar. . 2023 December;

Spitzer, DL, Jung A-S, Hargreaves S.

Journal of Migrant Health. 2023 December; 10.1016/j.jmh.2023.100210

Spitzer, D. L., Thambiah, S., Wong, Y-L., and Kaundan, M.K.

Globalization and Health. 2023 April; 19 (29) 10.1186/s12992-023-00925-w

Re)materializing Intersectionality in Transnational Context.

Spitzer, D. L.

Oxford: Oxford University Press. . 2023 March; In Transnationalism, Intersectionality, and Immigrant Lives: Critical Issues and Approaches to International Migration, E. Shizha and E. Makwarimba (eds)..

Migrant Family Separation, Reunification, and Recalibration.

Spitzer, D. L., Torres, S.

London: Elgar. . 2023 February; In Handbook of Migration and the Family, edited by J. Waters and B. Yeoh

Intersectionality: From Migrant Health Care to Migrant Health Equity.

Spitzer, D. L.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press. . 2022 November; Migration and Health, S. Galea, C. Ettman, and M. Zaman, editors.

Spitzer, D. L., Lam, T., Wee, K., Yeoh, B.

Gender, Work, and Organization. 2022 November; 10.1111/gwao.12837

COVID-19 and the Intersections of Gender, Temporary Migration Status, Work, and Place: Focus on Hong Kong and Ontario, Canada.

Spitzer, D. L.

Geneva: IOM. . 2022 September; COVID-19 Impacts on Migration and Migrants from a Gender Perspective.

The Promises of Migrant Entrepreneurship: A Kaleidoscopic Exploration.

Spitzer, D. L.

London: Palgrave-Macmillan. . 2022 July; Global Perspectives on Gendered Migrations. N. Piper and C. Mora, editors.

Oppression and Im/migrant Health in Canada.

Spitzer, D. L., Torres, S.

Oppression and Health, 2nd Edition, Elizabeth McGibbon, editor.. 2021 May; Halifax: Fernwood Press.

Working Intimacies: Migrant Beer Sellers, Surveillance, and Intimate Labour in Southeast Asia.

Spitzer, D. L.

Gender, Work, and Organization. 2021 April; (DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12646)

Towards Inclusive Migrant Health Care.

Spitzer, D. L., Torres, S., Zwi, A., Khalema, E., Palaganas, E.

BMJ. 2019 June; 366 (DOI 10.1136/bmj.14256)

Spitzer, D. L.

Handbook of Gender and Health, Jasmine Gideon, editor.. 2016 January; London: Elgar

Spitzer, D. L.

Migration, Mobility, & Displacement. 2016 January; 2 (2):24-39

Spitzer, D. L.

Handbook of Migration and Health, Felicity Thomas and Jasmine Gideon, eds.. 2016 January; London: Elgar

Spitzer, D. L., Piper, N.

Sociology. 2014 January; 48 (5):1007-1023

Spitzer, D. L., editor

Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2011 January;