Yasmina Lotfi is a graduate assistant and a Ph.D. student in health psychology at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Her thesis aims to explore how women who have undergone female genital cutting (FGC) construct their sexuality in relation to different cultural contexts. To this end, she is conducting qualitative research in Switzerland and Egypt. In her thesis work, she studies the role of cultural societal discourses, especially those from digital media relative to the body and sexuality such as postfeminist discourses. Her research interests focus on the relationship to the intertwinements between bodies, sexualities, and health in general.
Yasmina was the recipient of the Impact with Communities Award at the most recent ISCHP conference in Rancagua, Chile (2023).
Can you tell us a bit about your role and experiences in ISCHP?
I’ve had the opportunity to present my research work twice at conferences organised by ISCHP, once online in 2021 and most recently in Chile. On both occasions, I really felt a connection with other critical researchers and that my research belongs deeply to this current. My thesis supervisor, Prof. Maria del Rio Carral introduced me to this current of thought and this way of seeing the world, and it completely changed the way I perceive research. So I’m delighted to be able to follow the evolution of a society like ISCHP and to meet researchers affiliated with it at conferences.
How did you embark on an academic career? What prompted this path?
During my Master’s degree, I carried out a research project on female genital cutting (FGC) for my Master’s thesis. This work was exploratory and aimed to better understand the experiences of excised women living in Switzerland. The subject – which I had chosen – fascinated me, and the methodology (completely qualitative) used to carry out this work seemed to me to enable me to answer captivating questions that could not be answered in any other way.
It was at this point that I decided I would enjoy doing research, and that I would love to go further in the reflections brought to light in the Master’s thesis. Generally speaking, what I like about research – especially qualitative research – is getting out into the field and learning more about a topic directly from the people involved.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
It was both a highlight and a challenge, but I think the data collection for my thesis research was a positive experience in that it gave rise to some rich narratives that really moved me. When I think of the highlights of my journey so far, I also think of the supportive research team I work with, and the times when my work has been recognised as potentially useful, which I think is the aim of all the research we undertake.
Can you tell us about any career challenges and how you have tackled these?
For the moment, the biggest challenge I’ve encountered is without a doubt recruiting for my thesis research. Given the subject and the taboo that generally surrounds this type of theme in contexts where FGC takes place, it was very difficult to meet participants wishing to express themselves on this subject. This was particularly the case in my research field in Switzerland, where migration-related issues (e.g. waiting for a residence permit, etc.) were also at stake and made it difficult to meet migrant excised women. It took patience and, above all, perseverance! Finally, little by little, I managed to meet several women in my two research fields, as well as health professionals who care for these women.
What are you currently working on?
I haven’t finished my thesis yet, I am in my last year. Right now, I’m working on finishing the analysis of the data I collected in Switzerland and Egypt. I’m also working on writing articles about this work, in particular the results and methodology used in Egypt. Indeed, the fieldwork in this country required the adaptation of certain methodological concepts conceived by and for Western contexts. So it’s a busy time, but also a very stimulating one, as I’m now putting into shape all the fieldwork that has been done upstream.
Who/what inspires you and why?
I’ve met a lot of inspiring people during my studies and now my Ph.D. The career and research of my thesis supervisor, Prof. Maria del Rio Carral, is of course a source of great inspiration as her research are innovative and original. In general, I admire researchers whose work is socially useful and meaningful and anyone who defends the values of social justice. Outside academia, there are also many people who inspire me; well-known feminist figures such as Simone de Beauvoir or Nawal el Saadawi, who had to fight against all odds to defend ideas of equality between genders. I also admire the careers of journalists such as Marie Colvin and Shireen Abu Akleh, who despite the risks have gone into sensitive areas to gather testimony from people who are sometimes completely ignored by public opinion. Less “cliché” and more pragmatic, I’m also inspired by my family and friends who are so supportive and know how to bring me back down to earth when I get too caught up in theory.
What would you like to accomplish as an academic?
Related to what I have described above, I’d like to be able to carry out practical research aimed at highlighting some themes and potentially improving the care of populations that are sometimes stigmatised or even neglected by healthcare systems. As I’m still not sure whether I’ll be able to continue in academia, this is something I’d like to emphasise, whether in the academic world or elsewhere.