Alumni Talks: Ajnura Akbaş – Aspiring Young Researcher of History of Women

Ajnura Akbaş is our alumna and aspiring young researcher focusing on the history of women and gender. Ajnura published two gender-related articles: ‘Can women reach God without men?’, and ‘Questioning the conventional assumptions on the role of women in the society’. Ajnura had the opportunity to present her research at the Women’s History Conference at Queen’s University Belfast.

After obtaining her B.A. degree in Social and Political Sciences at IUS, she continued M.A. studies at Royal Holloway, University of London (Department of History). She plans to continue her research at the Ph.D. level in the same field of interest.

Our SAGE team and Career Center asked Ajnura to reflect on her experience of studying at IUS and her career.

SAGE: Ajnura, what was it like when you first came to the IUS? And, why did you choose to study at the International University of Sarajevo?

Ajnura: My very first coming to the IUS was for a scholarship testing. I remember looking around the spacious corridors of the main building and being amazed with the diversity of students and staff. I was particularly drawn to its international environment. In today’s political climate, I believe it is important for a young person to be surrounded by a diverse group of people and to be exposed to different viewpoints. Such an environment has the greatest potential to create socially aware and well-educated individuals. This was the main motivation for me to study at the IUS.

SAGE: How important is it to be in the international environment such as Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Ajnura: I believe that studying alongside students from different countries and backgrounds makes you more culturally aware and expands your perspective and understanding of the world. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a diverse composition and a rich history of multinational coexistence. However, it is up to the future generations to nurture this and one of the ways of doing so is by creating connections with people of different nationalities, religions, and worldviews.

SAGE: What is it that attracted you to focus on topics such as gender equality?

Ajnura: I was never comfortable with conventional understandings of gender relations in my near environment. I think many of my fellow female political scientists will agree that being in the field of political science exposes you to the absence of women in decision-making positions, to the disregard of their interests in policy making, and to the neglect of their perspectives in theorizing about geopolitics and international relations. Realizing this, I discovered a whole body of knowledge written by women who challenged traditional androcentric approach to politics. I began academically engaging with the topic of gender equality out of my desire to offer my own perspective and contribution in this regard. The most recent of such efforts was a project I conducted at Royal Holloway, University of London where I spent one year conducting a research on Bosnian women and their experience of conflict and transition to peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

SAGE: You graduated at IUS in Social and Political Sciences. How much did that prepare you for career? Is there any IUS professor whose lectures are engraved to your memory?

Ajnura: Department of Social and Political Sciences provided me with a solid foundation for the continuation of my studies. Individual research, however, has a critical role for every political science student who wants to keep pace with contemporary political developments. Nevertheless, I am thankful to many Professors at IUS whose knowledge and enthusiasm made my university experience better.

I remember brilliant lectures by Prof. Joseph Kaminski who always encouraged fruitful in-class discussions, insisting that every student’s opinion is heard and respected. I also have to mention Prof. Mirsad Karić whose lectures on IR and political systems challenged me but also encouraged me to grow both academically and personally. I enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere at lectures by Prof. Aliye Mataracı who always encouraged us to think outside the box. I also remember the invaluable support of my dissertation supervisor Prof. Peter Plenta who guided me through the process of writing my final project. It definitely helped to strengthen my decision to continue pursuing career in academic research.

SAGE: Why do you think it is important to gain awareness of gender equality?

Ajnura: Gender equality is one of the core prerequisites for a just society. I don’t think we can speak of justice without equal participation and visibility of both women and men. Dominant patriarchal power systems are so deeply entrenched into our culture that they often feel invisible to many people. Developing awareness about gender or donning the gender lenses allows us to reveal the unequal position and value attached to a particular gender and offers a possibility for a change.

SAGE: Can education help us understand the importance of gender equality for the society?

Ajnura: Education is essential for raising awareness about gender equality because it allows young people to critically asses and challenge the legitimacy of conventional understandings about gender relations. If done properly, such learning experience can result in generations of young people who will continue to foster gender consciousness so that once they are in decision-making positions, they will be able to respect and recognize the needs and interests of both women and men.

SAGE: What would you say to all future IUS studies?

Ajnura: Get involved in activities outside your classes and try meeting people who are different from you. It may seem easier to stick with what’s familiar, but socializing with those who think and look different from you will help you grow. Make the best out of everything IUS has to offer including all your lectures and classes, and invest in yourself and in your personal and academic growth.