Purdue University Graduate School

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Crossing borders and gender orders: A translocational inquiry of the Gender Equality Paradox in engineering

posted on 2023-12-11, 06:14 authored by Mohamed Aziz DridiMohamed Aziz Dridi

For 20 years, engineering education scholars and policymakers have consistently witnessed a low number of women compared to men graduating in engineering in the US. However, in many other countries, like Tunisia, we see near gender parity in terms of the number of women and men graduating in engineering. These contrasting trends are observed beyond the sole case of Tunisia and the US. They are, in fact, part of a much larger phenomenon called the “Gender Equality Paradox” (GEP) in STEM. The GEP posits an inverse relationship between, on one hand, a country’s level of material affluence and gender egalitarianism and, on the other hand, the gender gap in STEM graduates. Despite the increased scholarly attention that the GEP has attracted since its inception, the GEP literature has consistently framed and examined this phenomenon from a Western perspective. That is, scholars ask, why do we see small numbers of women compared to men graduating in engineering despite the high level of material affluence and gender egalitarianism in Western countries?

Little, and largely marginal, space has been given to the voices of women engineers from non-Western countries. This dissertation addresses this gap by investigating Tunisian women’s motivations to become engineers. Specifically, this research examines the translocational experiences of Tunisian women immigrants in the US to understand the different gender orders at play in the US and Tunisia and how they produce different representations of women in engineering. Grounded in postcolonial feminism, this interpretivist qualitative study answered three research questions:

1. What individual-level factors do Tunisian women describe as motivating their participation and persistence in engineering education and practice?

2. What societal, cultural, and policy factors in Tunisia do participants describe as supportive of their participation and persistence in engineering education and practice? Which ones are not?

3. How does the translocational positionality of Tunisian women engineers in the US (re)shape their perception of engineering?

The findings indicate an interplay between individual agency, structural factors, and historical contingency in determining the participants’ pathway to engineering. The participants described having to respond to different codes of meaning associated to engineering that were signaled to them by their family, the Tunisian society, and the Tunisian state. The participants’ translocational experiences indicate that they had to navigate different types of masculinities in the US and Tunisia, thus producing different perceptions of what it means to be women engineers in both countries. The results of this study center non-Western voices of women engineers in the GEP scholarship, challenge colonial assumptions made by GEP scholars, and interrogate the colonial legacies of the Tunisia education system. They also showcase the limitations of categoricalism-based conceptions of the GEP based on summary indices of material affluence and gender egalitarianism.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Alice L. Pawley

Additional Committee Member 2

Brent Jesiel

Additional Committee Member 3

Ruth Streveler

Additional Committee Member 4

Amena Shermadou

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