As an international development studies (IDS) co-op student, I am required to do two things in my fourth year abroad. First, I’m supposed to live and work in a developing country for eight to twelve months. And second, I’m tasked with choosing a research topic for my undergraduate thesis and collecting data for this research while on placement. During our first three years university, the IDS-ers tend to become very excited about the work part of placement and very scared about the thesis side of things (hence the dramatics in this post’s title!). But we need to do both to graduate so thesis research always manages to get done.
For those who regularly read my blog, you know I’ve had a turbulent past eight months on placement. My first three months were spent in Bibiani, Ghana, a country I grew to love but left early due to concerns about the Ebola outbreak in neighbouring countries (to date, thankfully, there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Ghana). Then, after just about three weeks back home in Canada after Ghana, I jetted off to Botswana to finish my placement here, where I’ve been for almost five months.
What has this got to do with research? Well, in Ghana I planned to do research on one topic. I even wrote a pretty good draft of a research proposal for my supervisor. But as soon as I left, I was forced to throw that away and start fresh in Botswana. This was nerve-wracking because I have a lot less time to complete my research in Botswana, with a placement of only five or so months in comparison to the eight months I was going to have in Ghana.
When I arrived in Botswana, I was a little disoriented. I had experienced a lot of change in a month (from West Africa to North America to Southern Africa) so it took me a while to settle in and finally start thinking about potential research topics here. After about two months in Gaborone, Botswana, I finally chose my topic. With all the media about street harassment around the world, I was interested in looking at this phenomenon here, too.
Street harassment is sexual harassment that happens in public places between strangers. Traditionally men are the harassers and women are the targets of street harassment, as it is widely considered a symptom of gender inequality. Even though street harassment is a global issue, there is little research done on it in general and even less done on it in the developing world, especially in Africa. Moreover, the youth voice is often left out of what research there is.
My research is focusing on speaking with youth – secondary school students here in Gaborone. I am looking for their stories, experiences, and conceptions of street harassment as a way of gaining insight into the gender inequality that exists here as well. I hope that my research will show that street harassment is an issue that we should be exploring as development researchers and practitioners. I also hope to add voices from the developing world to a topic that tends to be very North America focused.
I’ve already started setting up meetings with schools in the area to begin my data collection. It’s been a long time coming, since I started writing my research proposal for this topic almost three months ago. Preparing for research is almost as taxing as actually doing the research because there are numerous bureaucratic processes that need to be fulfilled with my university and also with federal and regional government here in Botswana.
I’m excited to get started with the data collection but also quite nervous, which I think is to be expected. I’ve only done much smaller research projects in the past – nothing on this scale before and nothing outside of a university context. But that’s why we go to school, right? To be challenged because that’s when we learn the most. I’ve already learned so much preparing for this research so I know I’ll learn even more over the next few weeks during the data collection process. Hopefully everything goes smoothly. Wish me luck!