Leila Qashu

Study program:
Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, Concordia University
Current affiliation:
Concordia University

Leila is studying how Ethiopian women, while devoid of political power, successfully use musical rituals for conflict resolution.

Towards an Understanding of Justice and Human Rights: Women's Musical Rituals in Ethiopia as Conflict Resolution

Leila Qashu’s doctoral research explored how music, as an expressive form, enables people to resist oppression and abuse in both public and private spheres, and helps them to resolve conflict in a peaceful fashion. Leila examined the use of song and singing rituals by women of the Oromo ethnic group in Ethiopia for conflict resolution in situations where few other outlets for socio-political action exist.  By comparing different local situations, she will try to identify the factors and circumstances that allow these musical rituals to remain relevant and effective means of conflict resolution, and to draw wider conclusions concerning how to foster restorative justice through the expressive arts. She expected the results of this study to have national and global relevance. It can, for example, inform Canada’s own restorative justice initiatives, as well as its role in human rights advocacy and intervention at the national and international level.

Leila is the winner of the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) 2017 Distinguished Dissertation Award for Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. She also received a SSHRC Insight Development Grant for her latest project, "Digital Representations of Resistance: Using Participatory Video to Document Young Arsi Oromo Women’s Challenges and Expressive Strategies for Change in Ethiopia."

Leila Qashu is a musician and she recently completed her PhD in ethnomusicology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her aim is to work in both academia and the public sector, applying the findings of her interdisciplinary ethnomusicology research to promote women’s rights, human rights and restorative justice.

After completing her bachelor’s degree at Carleton College, Leila taught and studied languages in France and Egypt before beginning to research Ethiopian music in 2003 as a Master’s student at Paris 8 University in France. She joined a research team affiliated with the French National Research Center (CNRS), then became an active member of a UNESCO project entitled “Ethiopian Traditional Music, Instruments and Dance.” Her research has also been funded by grants and awards from the French Center for Ethiopian Studies, the French Embassy in Addis Ababa, the City of Paris and Memorial University of Newfoundland. Leila has published individual and group articles, participated in conferences, produced or co-produced video documentaries and organized photo exhibits. She has also been involved in several other research projects, most recently on the immigrant communities in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
In addition to her research activities, Leila has been performing on the viola with many ensembles, including the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, and has been active in several non-profit organizations, such as the Multicultural Women’s Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Leila’s doctoral research built on her pre-doctoral work, based on many months of field research conducted among the Arsi Oromo ethnic group of Ethiopia. After studying wedding rituals, and men’s warrior songs and cattle praising songs, she became interested in investigating the position and voice of women in Oromo society. Although Arsi Oromo women are excluded from many male spaces, activities and political decisions, they secure and assert their power by creating their own social spaces and by interacting with the male social order through such media as musical conflict resolution rituals. By studying these musical rituals, Leila hoped to understand what makes them effective mechanisms of restorative justice, with the aim of informing national and international policy decisions to strengthen women’s rights and human rights. She planed to argue that in order for policy makers to fully understand the needs of communities in terms of justice and conflict resolution, decision makers must take into account local, subjective, and often culturally dependant perspectives, and existing conflict resolution procedures.

  • January 31, 2018
    Last November, the dissertation of 2010 Trudeau scholar Leila Qashu was awarded the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) 2017 Distinguished Dissertation Award for Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Her dissertation, “Toward an Understanding of Justice, Belief and Women’s Rights: Ateetee, an Arsi Oromo Women’s sung Dispute Resolution in Ethiopia,” was praised by for its interdisciplinarity.