Thais Bessa

bessaCan girl brides choose? Discourses on child and early marriage and representations of female agency

Supervisors: Dr Nicola Smith and Dr Emma Foster

Thais’ doctoral research uses postcolonial feminist theory to examine the discourses involved in the emergence of child and early marriage as an international issue, especially conceptualisations of female agency and Third World girlhood. Through discourse analysis of policy documents, public information materials, media articles and interviews with policy-makers and practitioners, the research will analyse how child and early marriage came to be a “global issue”, and in particular one associated with the Third World and/or minorities in developed countries.
By challenging the assumed oppressive nature of practices in the Third World and the construction of the fetishized “girl bride” as a form of neo-colonial epistemic violence, the research will also contribute to postcolonial feminist theory. In addition, the research will contribute to broader feminist scholarship on agency by interrogating binary constructions of Third World girls and prevailing discourses on child marriage that frame agency within choice and resistance.


Thais holds an undergraduate degree in International Relations from the University of Brasilia, Brazil, and an MSc in Forced Migration (Distinction) from the University of Oxford. She has also carried out research on protracted displacement in South America as a Visiting Fellow at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. 
Further to her academic background, Thais has over 10 years of professional experience in programme management, external relations, and fundraising at different UN agencies (UNHCR and UN Women) and more recently at international NGO Anti-Slavery International.
Thais is a DL PhD Researcher currently based in the USA, where she lives with her husband and two young daughters.


2008 MSc Forced Migration, Oxford University, UK (Distinction)

2004 BA International Relations, University of Brasilia, Brazil

Other activities

Thais is a member of the International Association Studies Association (ISA) and the Political Studies Association (PSA) and is currently the Academic Co-Editor of the Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration (OxMon). She often writes at the Feminist Academic Collective blog.


Conference papers

Bessa, T. (2018) Simple choices? Power relations, autonomy, and agency in child, early and forced marriage among Syrian forced migrants. Paper accepted to be presented at the ISA Annual Conference in San Francisco, April 2018.

Bessa, T. (2017) Informed powerlessness: a postcolonial analysis of policies and interventions on child marriage. Presented at the ISA-South Conference, Orlando, October 2017.


Bessa, T. (2017) Informed powerlessness: child marriage interventions and Third World girlhood discourses (submitted for review)

Bessa, T. (2009) “Doubly Forgotten”, Forced Migration Review 33 (Special Issue on Protracted Displacement)

Bessa, T (2009) “From Political Instrument to Protection Tool? Resettlement of Refugees and North-South Relations”, Refuge, 26(1), 91-100

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