Sixty years ago, after gaining independence from France, Tunisia adopted the most progressive laws supporting women’s rights in the Middle East. The Tunisian Code of Personal Status outlawed polygamy, and gave women equal rights around decisions of marriage, divorce and child custody. Over the years, many have tried in the name of religion and cultural norms to challenge these laws. Most recently, the first draft of Tunisia’s new constitution released in 2012 caused outcry among women and emerging civil society organizations when Article 28 described women’s roles in the family as “complementary” to that of men.
On Friday, April 29th, I sat in the rear of the 12th floor banquet hall at IIE’s New York Headquarters, humbled to be a part of the 2016 Scholar Rescue Fund Forum, "Scholar Voices and University Action." Surrounding me were highly accomplished individuals from education, human rights and government sectors, paired with persecuted scholars from all around the globe, each with a story to tell and a profound determination to make an impactful change.
Last week, the British Council held its annual "Going Global" conference for the first time in Africa. It was a good opportunity for all of us to meet with colleagues who bring different perspectives on the most urgent challenges facing higher education today. An IIE team member, Caitlin McNamara, who works on the Fulbright Scholar program, had an IIE Traveling Fellowship to attend and present a poster session on the impact of the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. I was invited to offer some perspective on the role of higher education in today's refugee crisis on a panel with European and Lebanese colleagues. In war zones, and in crisis zones under repressive regimes, the international community often thinks first of humanitarian aid, providing food, shelter, and medicine to displaced persons and others. Education usually comes last. At IIE, we have been working to help students and scholars in crisis, so I welcomed the chance to join this conversation.
The conflict in Syria has become the 21st century’s worst humanitarian crisis. The numbers are staggering:
- Over 300,000 killed
- close to 4.5 million refugees
- more than 9 million internally displaced peoples
Combined, that’s over half of Syria’s pre-war population.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
The Institute of International Education (IIE) recently released new Open Doors data showing that the number of international students coming to the United States had jumped by 10 per cent to total almost 1 million students from more than 200 countries.
Zina Ammar grew up in Gafsa, Tunisia, where she learned how to make the region’s famous Margoum carpets from the women in her family. Zina eventually started her own carpet-making business, but her lack of confidence and business skills limited her success. Hoping to grow her business, Zina enrolled in Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Financial Education trainings at the Women's Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) Center for Women’s Business Development in her community.
Chadleya Idriss began making toys for her children using recycled wood, which was “safer, more environmentally friendly, and more affordable than store-bought toys,” she explains. Chadleya went to the WES Center for Women’s Business Development in Kairouan, Tunisia, with a dream of starting a toy business. She participated in the WES entrepreneurship training and worked closely with the WES Center staff to conduct market research on the local toy industry. Last November, Chadleya launched her new business, Toy Story.
Our experience suggests that fragile states cannot succeed without major investments in higher education. Accordingly, neglecting academic needs during and after armed conflict raises the risk of failure once peace is restored—with security implications for the rest of the world. As noted by IIE Vice President Daniela Kaisth, “there is widespread recognition that education at all levels must be protected during war for the vital role it plays in preserving leadership, stabilizing societies, and once conflict subsides, rebuilding peaceful and prosperous communities.”
Senator J. William Fulbright was a Rhodes Scholar, and the experience gave him the idea that more Americans ought to have the opportunity to study abroad. We know where that led, of course.
You probably have never heard of the Global Platform for Syrian Students. I hadn’t heard of them either until about two years ago when the President of Carnegie Corporation of New York, Dr. Vartan Gregorian, introduced us.