Notre Dame doctoral candidate named 2020 Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellow

Author: Hannah Heinzekehr

Maryam Rokhideh

Maryam Rokhideh, a University of Notre Dame doctoral candidate in peace studies and anthropology at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, has been named a 2020 Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellow in Women’s Studies. Ten highly selective fellowships are awarded annually to humanities and social science doctoral candidates whose work addresses women’s and gender issues in interdisciplinary and original ways.

“Maryam is an emerging leader in the field of women's work and economic activity as stabilizing forces in areas of long-term conflict,” said Catherine Bolten, associate professor of anthropology and peace studies and Kroc Institute and director of doctoral studies. “She is the first student in the Kroc Institute to receive this award, which is a testament to her dedication to revealing how women's activities are foundational to recovery from war.” 

Rokhideh spent 20 months living and researching on the Goma-Gisenyi border between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. She has conducted multi-sited ethnographic research, interviews, surveys, geo-spatial analysis and social network analysis to study cross-border movements and exchange between DRC and Rwanda. Each day, thousands of people, the majority of them female traders, cross this border — the most active in Africa — on foot or in vehicles to sell goods, study and access resources and services that are not readily available to them.

Her dissertation, titled “Everything is on My Back: Women, Work, and Welfare on the Congo-Rwanda Border,” examines the ways in which women who live in border communities leverage their networks to achieve socio-economic mobility and improve their quality of life in an insecure context where access to public services is limited. Prior to receiving the Wilson Fellowship, Maryam was awarded research grants and fellowships from Fulbright, USAID (through the Pulte Institute for Global Development), Kellogg Institute for International Studies and Notre Dame’s Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts.

Rokhideh’s research on the Goma-Gisenyi border has led her to focus particularly on finding concrete and evidence-based strategies to mitigate fragility risks like high unemployment and regional conflict. Her research provides insights on how border regions can function as sites of bridge-building and mutual interdependence.   

“As a vehicle for job creation and regional integration, transnational trade networks can play a critical role in facilitating economic growth, providing food security and even promoting social cohesion in fragile and conflict-affected areas,” Maryam said. “They provide services and goods that communities don’t have access to in their own states. It’s a new way of looking at borders that can shape current global discussions on migration, border disputes and service provision.”

Rokhideh wants to highlight stories that illustrate women’s roles as active agents in fostering economic recovery and post-conflict social change in the African Great Lakes region.  

“It’s incredible to see how women have become primary earners, lifting themselves out of cycles of vulnerability,” said Rokhideh. “They fund their children’s education and have become a force for change and wellbeing for their families and local communities by producing and transporting goods across the border, creating social safety nets and building cross-border networks of trust in a highly divisive environment.”