Zainab is in a League of her own

Posted on 20th March 2018

A PhD student at the University of Chester, who is also a visiting lecturer in the University’s Institute of Gender Studies, has recently returned from speaking at one of America’s Ivy League universities.

Zainab Hussaini (third from left, front row) at Columbia University with fellow conference participants.
Zainab Hussaini (third from left, front row) at Columbia University with fellow conference participants.

Zainab Hussaini, who is originally from Kabul in Afghanistan, was invited to attend Columbia University in New York city to talk about her work on ‘The Politics of Belonging’ at an international conference, titled “Afghanistan: The Next Generation of Scholars”.

The conference was funded by the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies, an academic organisation founded to support research and scholarship on Afghanistan; and the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, a not for profit organisation that promotes dialogue and exchange between the United States and Muslim-majority countries, and among such countries on key issues of mutual concern.

Zainab’s research is on the marginalisation of the Hazara people of Afghanistan – and of Hazara women in particular. The Hazaras are one of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic minorities and are primarily Shia Muslims (most Afghans are Sunni Muslims). They have long been subjected to persecution within their own country.

Zainab said: “When people in the global north think of ‘an Afghan woman’, the image is often of a Pashtun woman, complete with veil. The reality is that this ignores the Hazara people, and it is a misconception that’s reinforced repeatedly by the international community. In my work, I use a transnational feminist postcolonial lens in an attempt to bring Hazara women’s voices to the geopolitical centre stage.”

The conference brought together the ‘new generation’ of scholars studying Afghanistan to showcase the latest scholarship being produced across a range of disciplines, from anthropology and history to gender studies, law and political science. Participants had the opportunity to present their work on a number of thematically-organised panels and to receive critical feedback from their peers with the aim of revision.

Speaking of her opportunity to share her research at Ivy League level, Zainab added: “It was marvellous for me to receive feedback on my work from those who are currently dealing with scholarly work and research about and in Afghanistan. As a participant, I will also have the chance to contemplate future opportunities for collaborative research and writing. Conference organisers also facilitated a conversation about the state of scholarship on Afghanistan, as well as the future of scholarly research inside Afghanistan, with the aim of identifying next steps we can pursue to support both.”

Professor Emma Rees, Professor of Literature and Gender Studies at the University of Chester, and one of Zainab’s supervisors, said: “Zainab headed off competition from scholars worldwide to be one of only 25 participants in this all-expenses-paid event. I am extremely proud that she is seizing the opportunity to share her research with scholars who have similar research interests – and on such a prestigious international stage.”