As a whole, women’s studies is fundamentally international and interdisciplinary. The exploration of gender concepts often requires students to pull from a variety of other fields, such as history, politics, race, religion, psychology, and the biological sciences. Exploring women’s studies abroad will expose students to a range of cultural practices and ideologies, therefore developing a global framework to further contextualize contemporary issues like human rights, violence against women, and the LGBT movement. Study abroad programs focused on women’s studies are available almost anywhere in the world, and each culture will provide its own perspective and approach to women’s issues.
Why Study Abroad
Gender construction and questions of identity are largely culture-specific. Only by studying abroad can you fully experience the differing environments and unique challenges faced by women across the world, and how society and culture contributes to gender movements on a global level. It’s especially important for those who want to pursue women’s studies in the realm of international relations, policy, social work, or education. Study abroad experience listed on a resume illustrates drive, maturity, and a developed understanding of principal themes in women’s studies.
Women’s studies programs are available all over the world. although since Europe and Scandinavia are incredibly progressive regions opportunities are more common there. However, places like the Middle East and Latin America are also good places to pursue women’s studies courses abroad, since gender constructs are so uniquely defined.
Europe. It’s pretty easy to find study abroad programs across Europe, especially in popular countries like England, France, Spain, and Italy. Students looking for more focused and challenging women’s studies programs should consider the Netherlands and Denmark. All of the latter locations are widely regarded as some of the most developed and tolerant cultures in the world. The Dutch government, for example, has decriminalized and legalized prostitution in an effort to regulate the sex tourism industry, which means the Netherlands is an extraordinary place to explore women’s studies abroad. Policy, social work, sex trafficking, and queer theory are great themes to explore within the context of any one of these nations.
The Middle East. Women’s studies programs available in the Arab world typically investigate identity and gender from a largely Islamic or Muslim perspective. Programs may, for example, take students to Beirut, Amman, and the West Bank to trace gender constructions through history, literature, and theory. Turkey generally has many opportunities to explore women’s studies. In general, this region is most beneficial for those looking to examine ideologies of women and gender from a non-western perspective, or for those who have a particular interest in the crossroads of religion and women’s rights.
Latin America. This is a great region to study gender and social change in Mesoamerica. Latin America has some widespread problems in terms of machismo, drug trafficking, and violence, but it also offers some gorgeous settings and incredibly colorful cultures. There is a demand for those interested in examining legal policy, sociology, and behavioral sciences. Many of underdeveloped nations in this region, such as Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil are working to find solutions to the extensive difficulties that stunt social and economic growth. Further research and case studies are needed to help reform and reframe concerns of violence, leadership, and gender norms, so those women’s studies programs in Latin America often include research components.
Courses & Programs
Courses in women’s studies generally fall under the categories of feminism, sexuality and gender identity, or activism and social policy.
Feminism. These make up some of the core courses of women’s studies programs; feminism courses include the history and theory of feminism, feminist policy, and overviews of the many different types of movements, such as postcolonial feminism, black and chicana feminism, and third-wave feminism. Students will have the opportunity to build a foundation by researching feminist pioneers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret Fuller, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Sexuality & Gender Identity. In these types of courses, students investigate how gender is constructed and perceived in terms of cultural paradigms, societal norms, biology, and psychology. Topics include LGBT studies, queer theory, and the history of sexuality. Through research, students will be asked to challenge their own notions of masculine and feminine and imagine alternative models of gender and gender roles.
Activism & Social Policy. These women’s studies courses push students to get out of the classroom and join the larger discussion of women and gender in the real world, by challenging the status quo, changing the laws that govern a society, or advancing human rights and equality. Activism and social policy coursework includes gritty subjects that are difficult to discuss: discrimination, human trafficking, prostitution, rape and other forms of violence against women, and contraception. Students engaged in this material are provided with the necessary training needed to express tough concerns and enact real social change.
Many of women’s studies programs are available in the summer term, but it’s not hard to find semester-long courses in the spring and fall too. Most study abroad programs allow students to conduct field research, create their own projects, or combine coursework with an internship, and usually involve workshops and informative field trips to neighboring countries or relevant organizations, such as the European Thematic Network of Women's Studies. Prior coursework is generally not required, except for some advanced women’s studies courses.
- Experience. There is no substitute for hands-on experience in a foreign setting. Since ideas of women and gender vary from region to region and culture to culture, it’s critical that students concentrating in women’s studies have an understanding of how different nations approach these topics and how other cultures differ from their own culture.
- Opportunity. Many of women’s studies programs are designed to bring students into contact with groups and organizations working to improve conditions for women around the world. Students have the opportunity not only to learn from and work with these groups, but also to network with them, and create strong professional connections that can be utilized after graduation.