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Emna Ben Aarab Mustapha

Emna Ben Aarab Mustapha

Women's Initiative Fellow 2014

Emna is an assistant professor in the English Department at The Sfax Faculty of Letters and Humanities at the University of Sfax, Tunisia.  Her courses focus on American foreign policy, history of political ideas, political discourse analysis, and science fiction and culture.

Emna is the author of numerous books and articles on the topics of politics, equality and democracy. She served a yearlong stint as a member of the Sfax City Council and served seven years as a member of the Tunisian Parliament. From 2008-2010, she presided as Chair of the Woman and Child Committee of the Arab Maghreb Consultative Council. Emna serves as Director of Schooling Plus, a language teaching center, as well as Director of the Franklin Center / American Corner, Sfax. She also works as an Access Microscholarship Program Implementer.

Emna holds her Ph.D. in Culture Studies from the University of La Manouba, Tunis. A Fulbright Scholar and participant in the International Visitor Leadership Program, Emna is working to empower women through education to provide a strong barrier against political regression.  She sees education as a means of informing women about their rights as full citizens as stipulated by International Law and by the Tunisian Personal Status Code, and as a means of breaking the glass ceiling to advance to leadership positions at work.

Emna's Story

Emna put her Fellowship experience into practice to affect a vulnerable segment of society. Her passion is education reform, but her struggle was how to reach more of Tunisia’s 2.3 million children, beyond the kids in her own secondary school and the students she taught as a Professor at Sfax University. A trip to Google in California’s Silicon Valley and a meeting with the Google X group, which pioneers Google’s “moon-shot ideas,” such as the self-driving car, led Emna to ask what are “my own moon-shot ideas and my own wide dreams?”

She returned to Tunisia determined to create an education campus where any child can arrive at age four and leave at 21 having learned the skills that will prepare him or her for the global job market. She developed a new leadership curriculum for Sfax University based on what she had learned at SMU during her fellowship, and she and her business partner opened another private secondary school in Sfax. Together, their two schools have 430 students and employ 36 teachers, many of whom are women. Emna’s schools teach to the whole student, emphasizing not just academics but also social responsibility projects to improve the community. She created an online portal to bring together teachers, thought leaders, community members, parents, and other Tunisians to discuss education policy and issues.

Emna’s ultimate dream is to become “a real decision-maker in my country,” to run for political office with “education at the center of my political platform.” The fellowship taught her both practical skills and to believe in future success. “I learned that I have to ‘own’ my own path. I learned to take thoughtful risks, and finally I learned that I should always say, ‘Yes, and…’ not ‘Yes, but.’”