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Political scientist researching women, politics and Islam in the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Tønnessen has a PhD in comparative politics from the University of Bergen. Her research interests include: Islamic law, women's rights and political representation, social movements including women's movements and Islamic movements, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender based violence. She has published international peer reviewed articles with publishers like Duke University Press, Routledge, Brill, Oxford University Press, Palgrave Macmillan, and Taylor Francis.
Tønnessen has a track record from the Middle East and Northern Africa with long term stays in Sudan, Lebanon and Syria. She has specialized in Sudanese politics for more than a decade. Tønnessen has conducted extensive fieldworks in the country and she has lectured at Ahfad University for Women. She has a wide network of contacts within Sudanese academia, politics and civil society.
Tønnessen has headed several research projects among them a project funded by the Norwegian Research Council on sexual violence and rape legislation in Sudan. Tønnessen is also the project leader of a research project funded by the Norwegian Research Council on the effects of aid to women’s political representation in Malawi, Uganda, Sudan and Zambia. She is additionally heading a new mapping project funded by the RAFTO foundation on women’s human rights and efforts towards family and criminal law reform in Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen between 1995 and 2015.
In addition, Tønnessen has participated in several applied research projects and evaluations (funded by NORAD, SIDA, MFA, The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Sudan, and the World Bank).
Tønnessen is a founding member of the Norwegian Center for Humanitarian Studies which includes the three Norwegian research institutes CMI, NUPI and PRIO. She is also in the steering committee for the Center on Law and Social Transformation, which is a joint initiative by CMI and the University of Bergen.