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Human rights research takes PhD scholar to Palestine

Liyana Kayali in the old city of Jerusalem
Tuesday 5 August 2014

Fieldwork took PhD candidate Liyana Kayali to the Middle East to investigate how Palestinian women are asserting their human rights.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is decades-long, and doesn’t appear to have a solution in sight. Usually, this conflict is portrayed only through its political facets.

PhD candidate Liyana Kayali from the School of Politics and International Relations is taking an alternative view on the conflict, examining women’s experiences of occupation in the West Bank and the ways they struggle to assert their human rights.

“When we remember that the Palestinian struggle is fundamentally a struggle for human rights, we perhaps save ourselves from the apathy that makes us forget that behind the headlines and the images of world leaders making speeches there are real people whose lives are being affected,” she says.

“My research focuses on Palestinian women's experiences of occupation in the West Bank and explores their views and attitudes towards different resistance strategies. Palestinian women have endured many layers of oppression and yet this has not prevented them from actively engaging in various forms of resistance throughout history and in creating survival strategies to protect their families and livelihoods.”

A highlight of Liyana’s research so far was travelling overseas for fieldwork in Palestine. It was this experience that brought home the reality of the human rights issues facing Palestinians.

“Until I got to spend time there I wasn't able to properly comprehend how everything translated into the daily realities of Palestinian life,” she says.

“I undertook several months of fieldwork research in Palestine last year to investigate these patterns further, which was a truly amazing experience. Most of my research activity involved conducting interviews with women and becoming familiar with their everyday lives.”

She was also struck by the genuine hospitality of Palestinians in the face of the occupation, and how keen most people were to have their stories heard.

After completing her Bachelor of Arts and a few years in the workforce, Liyana decided that a PhD would be the best way to develop her research skills in a specific area. She majored in Arabic and Islamic studies and international relations in her undergraduate studies.

“I wanted to work on something that gave me intellectual freedom through an independently-driven project, and be able to work directly under the supervision of experts in the field,” she says.

“ANU is a great place to study – there’s such a broad range of fascinating topics that people are working on, and the knowledge, level of intellect and passion for critical research that you encounter are inspiring.”

What drives Liyana's passion for human rights?

“I am interested in human rights because of the ideal it aspires to, and because it reminds us that struggles to redress injustices happening on the other side of the world are inseparable from the global struggle to realise human rights. In the Palestinian-Israeli case, and generally, I believe that any sustainable political arrangement cannot be achieved if human rights issues are ignored.”

Liyana is also teaching undergraduate students in Human Rights in International Relations with Dr Victoria Mason.

Inspired by human rights? ANU has recently launched a Human Rights Major that teaches the political, legal, historical and philosophical origins and contemporary realities of the human rights field. 

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