by Aislinn McNiece and Martin De Leon
Many Georgetown undergraduates have the chance to participate in original research during their academic careers. Two SFS recent alumnae who benefitted from these opportunities got to present their research at SFS-Qatar during the “Writing Women’s Lives Conference” on March 20, 2016. Elaine Colligan and Harmonie Kobanghe, both SFS’15, traveled with their professor, Patricia Biermayr-Jenzano of the Center for Latin American Studies, and Eeuphelma Wangchuck, COL’16, to discuss the “Lives, Livelihoods, and Land” of modern women around the world.
Research was a focus for both women throughout their time at Georgetown. After her freshman year, Colligan, a Culture and Politics major focusing on Global Justice, Gender, and the Environment, traveled to Romania to research the local impacts of climate change and drought, which spurred her interest in climate change and social justice. As a Mortara Undergraduate Research Fellow, she began to focus on measuring the different impacts of climate change on men and women in resource dependent communities. At the end of her junior year, Colligan received the David F. Andretta Summer Research Fellowship, which allowed her to spend the summer in Djirnda, Senegal, speaking with people on the ground about climate change.
For Colligan, having the opportunity to perform research while at SFS has greatly impacted her career. “Conducting my research was a turning point in my career path. While I was in my research site I saw a human side of climate change I could never have comprehended from a Lauinger Library cubicle,” she explained. At the conference, Colligan presented field research done in Djirnda that measured “how much women suffer physically and financially from climate change, and how much men also feel the impacts of environmental degradation through unemployment.”
During her time at Georgetown, Kobanghe, an International Politics major with an African Studies certificate, researched rule of law programs in the DRC and the Central African Republic as an intern for the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative. In the summer of 2014, Kobanghe was awarded a Circumnavigators grant, which allowed her to conduct her research in Peru, Brazil, Italy, Tanzania, India, and Nepal, where she focused on the intersection between land rights, gender equality, and household food security.
Kobanghe’s passion for research, paired with the opportunity to travel the world, empowered her “to go beyond classroom learning and acquire an empirical knowledge of the importance of recognizing women farmers’ vital roles in rural development.” From her findings, Kobanghe concluded that bridging the gender gap in agriculture is key to achieving food security in developing regions of the world, which formed the core of her senior thesis and her presentation at the conference.
“Our panel was unique at the conference because we had performed empirical research, in contrast to the literary and theoretical modes of the other panels. Presenting on insights we gained from working in the field with women who produce food and feel the impacts of climate change was our distinct contribution to the conference,” said Colligan.
Kobanghe held similar sentiments about the unique approach that Georgetown students took in their presentations: “I would say that my research [was] complementary to the rest of the conference because it provided a glimpse of women and gender issues outside of the Middle Eastern context. It was very interesting, however, to learn about issues such as sexual harassment in Egypt and gendered citizenship laws in Qatar, among other gender-based issues across a vast temporal and geographical spectrum.”
Professor Biermayr-Jenzano, who submitted Kobanghe and Colligan’s papers to the SFS-Q conference, also presented her own research on “Women’s Empowerment and Participation in Agricultural Value Chains” in Morocco and Peru. Both graduates’ research stemmed in part from their time in Professor Biermayr-Jenzano’s “Gender and Sustainability” course and from their broader experiences at SFS. “These classes enabled me to explore the gendered manifestations of patriarchy, sexual and gender gender-based violence, as well as the importance of empowering women and girls in order to achieve sustainable development,” said Kobanghe.
Though the flexibility of the SFS curriculum and the focus on research has definitely made an impact on her academic career, for Colligan, the values emphasized by the university were just as formative: “Georgetown’s emphasis on social justice and contemplation in action grounded me during college as the SFS pushed me to explore, take risks, and grow.”
Kobanghe took her commitment to using empirical approaches to bring about social justice to her current position as program assistant at Physicians for Human Rights, where she focuses on sexual violence in conflict zones. “As a human rights professional, my long-term goals…[jnvolve] advancing women’s human rights in sub-Saharan Africa [in order] to help prevent gender-based violence and to better equip women and girls with the ability to contribute substantially to the sustainable development of their communities,” said Kobanghe.
Colligan’s experiences affected the way she hopes to make an impact in the world around her. “Seeing this political root of our climate crisis made me want to organize communities for power back at home,” said Colligan. She currently serves as a climate justice organizer with 350 Action in New Hampshire. Looking ahead, she hopes to “continue organizing young people to build grassroots power and win tangible policy gains from elections.”