By Maro Youssef
Maro Youssef, Strauss Center Brumley Fellow and Doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, is currently researching civil society, democracy, and women’s participation in Tunisia as part of the Brumley program. Over Spring Break, Maro visited the country to perform interviews with leaders of Tunisia’s women’s movement. She fills us in on her work and more for us here:
Maro: “My Brumley research project is on civil society, democracy, and women’s participation in Tunisia. My trip to Tunisia this spring helped me better understand the environment and landscape in which women’s civil society associations operate. The findings from my interviews with key leaders in the women’s movement highlighted their participation in the democratic transition; they join coalitions composed of different women’s groups and government ministries, draft legislation related to women’s issues, and serve on committees and commissions related to transitional justice. This trip also helped me clarify the issues women are currently working on including: giving women equal inheritance rights as men, eliminating violence against women, increasing women’s political participation, and combatting violent extremism.”
What led to your interest in this research?
“There is a right-wing conservative trend that is taking place on a global level where national figures use rhetoric on religion, nativism, xenophobia, or nationalism to marginalize other groups and monopolize resources. In Tunisia, Tunisians are attempting to reconcile sharp divisions among religious conservatives and nationalists that became visible in both politics and society after the 2010-2011 Jasmine Revolution. Civil society and women’s groups help ensure that the democratic transition from authoritarian rule is pluralistic, participatory, and representative of all Tunisians. Other nations struggling with their own ideological and ethnic differences could learn how to resolve some of their issues by studying the Tunisian case.”
What challenges have you run into?
“Some of the challenges I have faced include learning how to switch between academic and policy-style writing. Another issue is identifying what busy policymakers need to know and how to draw their attention to important “soft” issues such as women’s political participation that affect American interests and stability.”
Maro’s faculty mentor in the Brumley program is Professor Paul Pope, Senior Senior Fellow with the Intelligence Studies Project. In general, mentors provide research and career guidance to their Brumley Fellows in a hands-off manner so that the Fellow is the ultimate director of their own research.
Has Prof. Pope opened up new ways of thinking for you, or perhaps changed the direction of your research? If not, how has he helped you generally in your project and professional development?
“Professor Pope has been very supportive of my work. He has given me the space to create my own project and highlight the importance of women’s issues and their link to democracy and stability. In terms of my professional development, he has introduced me to several influential figures in my field. He also helps me refine and tighten my policy-writing skills.”
What do you predict doing with your research at the end of the academic year?
“My research will be integrated in my doctoral research as part of my dissertation.”
What do you have in store after receiving your PhD?
“I am interested in working in foreign policy at the government level or at a Think Tank institution. My background as an Arab-American woman who lived in the Middle East and North Africa and researched the region over many years inspired me to want to have a voice and have an influence on US foreign policy.”
We thank you Maro for your time!
See here for more information on the Strauss Center’s Brumley Fellowships.
Maro Youssef is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. She is also affiliated with the Center for Women and Gender Studies, the Power, History, and Society Network, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, and the Urban Ethnography Lab. Her research interests include democracy, women’s rights, civil society, and the Middle East and North Africa.