#ElliottExpert: Shirley Graham

#EE Graham

Dr. Shirley Graham currently teaches graduate courses on Global Gender Policy and Gender, War & Peace, and an undergraduate course on Women & Global Politics. She has worked as a practitioner with NGOs such as the Irish Consortium on Gender-Based Violence, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Hanna’s House All-Ireland Feminist Peace Project, and Women for Election. Her first activist campaign – a piece of street theatre raising awareness of violence against women – drew high levels of media attention, for which she received the Amnesty International Award (Ireland Division) for Inspired Campaigning. In 2014, she created a women’s empowerment program (Inspiring Woman at http://www.shirleygraham.net), supporting individual women’s progression into leadership roles. Drawing on feminist IR theory her research amplifies women’s narratives, strategies, and knowledge of navigating post-conflict settings. Research topics include women soldier’s exclusion/inclusion in UN peacekeeping missions and studies of development agencies’ women’s empowerment programs in Rwanda and Uganda.

  • Program/Institute: Gender Equality Initiative in International Affairs
  • Area(s) of expertise: Gender & International Peacekeeping, Women, Peace & Security Agenda, Women’s Rights & Empowerment.
  • Undergrad Institution & Degree: City, University of London:- CAM Diploma in Public Relations; Dublin City University:- MA in International Affairs
  • PhD Institution & Thesis: National University of Ireland, Maynooth; “Gender Discourses in the Social Relations of Irish Peacekeepers & Opportunities for Transformation”.
  • Fall 2019 Courses: Global Gender Policy


When did you know you wanted a career in international affairs/academia?

Up until 2003, I worked in the corporate world in London. That was the year my life changed dramatically. I decided to take a sabbatical and volunteer as a teacher in a primary school in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was deeply moved by the poverty and gender inequalities I witnessed. Particularly, how young girls were impacted, living with the threat of being trafficked into India to work in the sex industry or as domestic servants in conditions akin to slavery. One day while rowing on a small boat on a lake in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountains my friend held a ‘metaphorical mirror’ up to me and said: “you should work on human rights issues in international affairs because that’s all you ever talk about!” I burst out laughing. I wasn’t sure if she was genuinely encouraging me to switch careers or hinting that it was time for me to shut-up! While still in Nepal I applied for my Master’s degree in International Affairs at Dublin City University, was accepted, and graduated a year later. That set me on my new path.

What has been your favorite course to teach and why?

I enjoy each of the courses I teach, they are similar but different. The Global Gender Policy course is very satisfying because it provides a discussion on a wide range of topical issues within a number of different policy and conceptual areas, including- Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights, Intersectionality, Gender & Development, National & International Security and Humanitarian Aid. It’s a good overview course on gender policy whether students are focusing on security policy studies, international development or international affairs. The students participating in my courses are passionate about gender equality, LGBTQI rights, and women’s empowerment and are always very engaged and enthusiastic learners. They are often in leadership roles or planning to be in the near future as advocates, activists, practitioners or policymakers. The class is discussion-based (Socratic style) and learning takes place through an exchange of ideas and perspectives on course readings, policy papers, and class presentations. Assignments include students drafting policy briefs on an issue/topic of their choice, the best of which are published on the GEIA website. No matter which course I’m teaching my students never fail to energize and inspire me!

 What hobbies do you enjoy outside of academia?

Adventure and traveling to new places! On arrival to the US from Ireland in August 2017, one of the first things I did was plan a series of short trips to different cities, states, and neighboring countries. So far, I have visited New Orleans, Sedona/Arizona, San Francisco, New York, Toronto and Tulum in Mexico. This photo is of me at a Mayan pyramid in the archeological ruins at Muyil on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. While in D.C. I love cycling beside the Potomac River along the Mount Vernon Trail to Old Town Alexandria or alongside the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal from Georgetown towards Rock Creek Park. Cycling reconnects me with nature, fresh air and good strong heart-pumping exercise, which makes me feel alive! A group of friends and I regularly visit the Narmada Winery in Virginia. It is a fabulous India owned vineyard which offers delicious Indian food as well as wine. It’s a very enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Quieter hobbies include yoga, photography and creative writing.

What advice do you have for first-year students who are starting their graduate studies?

Find a mentor. They don’t have to be a faculty member, but someone who encourages you and supports you through the ups and downs of this new exciting, but sometimes overwhelming, phase in life. Push yourself to move out of your comfort zone and try new things. It’s a perfect time to explore who you are and make new friends by joining clubs and networks and attending diverse events in DC related to the issue/policy areas that interest you. It’s also important to stay connected to what you love and enjoy outside your studies. Whether you love playing a musical instrument or playing a sport, don’t give it up, you need time for your personal interests to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle at university.

Favorite part about living in/around DC?

I love the fact that DC is such a walkable city with wide tree-lined boulevards. April is my happiest month when the Cherry Blossom trees create a sea of pink froth around the Tidal Basin and along the streets. There is also interesting wildlife here, not just the rats! An Opossum strolled past my front door recently, paused when it saw me, maintained eye contact, and then disappeared into the undergrowth. I was thrilled! That was my first sighting of one of those beautifully, strange-looking creatures. The museums on the national mall are fascinating and full of interesting treasures and histories, and they are all free! I particularly like having brunch in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden and relaxing with a coffee in the Dolcezza Café after a meander around the Hirshhorn Museum.

The #ElliottExpert series highlights current Elliott School professors and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by professors profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.

For more information or to submit questions, e-mail esiagrad@gwu.edu.