An Introduction to the ISP

These past few weeks have flown by. I can’t believe it is already time for a second excursion! We will be leaving Monday morning and returning next Monday. This time we will be heading South and hitting many different towns and visiting parts of the Star Wars set! We are all very much looking forward to that.

Part of the Star Wars set we will be visiting.
Part of the Star Wars set we will be visiting.

When we come back we have one week with many tests and papers and then it will be time for the ISP (Independent Study Project) period to begin. One of the things that drew me to an SIT study abroad program versus other programs was the in independent study project. Each student conducts interview-based research in the final month of the program. I really enjoy doing research and the opportunity to do research abroad is very unique. I am also looking forward to using my new Tunsi and Arabic skills to conduct interviews.

My ISP project could have been about anything. For those of you who know me well it should come as no surprise that I struggled for a while to narrow down my research ideas and changed my mind quite a bit! We had to decide pretty early what we wanted our project to be about since we have had to submit various project proposals throughout the semester. Having to think about my project early on was very beneficial because I started with a large topic and was able to narrow my focus and mold my project as I learned more about Tunisia.

SIT does a very good job of connecting students to local organizations. We have visited many CSOs and NGOs since we have been in Tunisia. This has been one of my favorite parts of the program. Civil Society Organizations sprang up all over the country after the revolution. Many of these organizations are run by young people and it has been very inspiring to hear from so many people who have a positive outlook of their country’s future.

Cogite: the first co-working space in Tunisia.
Cogite: the first co-working space in Tunisia.

One of the organizations we visited this week was called Cogite. They were the first co-working space in Tunisia. Many CSOs lack the finances to purchase or rent their own offices so spaces like this are very beneficial and have been gaining popularity throughout the country. In addition to providing offices and working space, Cogite also trains entrepreneurs who have ideas about crating a “social business.” An example of this is a beekeeper in a small town who employs 30 people. And this is just one example of the many organizations we have seen.

Several of the organizations we meet had to do wih women. One in particular that stuck with me is called Aswat Nissa (in English this means “voices of the women”). I was so impressed with this organization. First of all, it is run by three people! When this organization first began they focused on raising awareness about domestic violence against women. As time has progressed they have changed their focus and their newest project is providing training for women in political parties.

The training involves teaching the women skills such as leadership, public speaking, and policy-making.The group hopes to expand in the future and find other ways to support women in politics in Tunisia as there are many obstacles.

This organization lead me to an idea for my project. Although Tunisia has a history of being one of the most progressive countries for women in the Middle East, there is a gap between what the law says regarding women and the mentality of the society.

Although this gap existed during the Ben Ali era, after the revolution Tunisians were given a chance to change this. Women are now challenging the government and society to ensure the writes they work to have included in the constitution are present in society.

Women protesting to maintain their rights during the revolution.
Women protesting to maintain their rights during the revolution.

This is where my project comes into play. I will examine several organizations such as Aswat Nissa and a few others in order to determine how CSOs are working to ensure the legal rights of women are implemented in society.

I am looking forward to immersing myself in this topic for a month. I can’t believe how fast time has flown while I have been here, but it’s not over yet! My next blog won’t be for a few weeks since I will be on the excursion and the following weeks is finals weeks, but don’t worry, you’ll hear from me again!

 

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