The Making of Women‘s Rights in Contemporary Egypt



The trans-nationalization and accompanying institutionalization of norms of women’s rights has attained an increasingly important position on the global agenda in the last two decades. Amongst others, the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women), the main UN organ for women’s rights, has played a substantial role in this development. Against the background of this international trend, a more robust institutionalization of human and women’s rights at the level of the nation-state in Egypt and across the MENA region, especially since 2002, can be observed. Although Egypt ratified CEDAW already in 1981, the role of so-called ‘national human rights institutions’ in the promotion of women’s rights has become increasingly visible and important, particularly in the last twelve years. Alongside transnational organizations and the nation-state, actors at the level of civil society also play an important role in the diverse praxis of human rights. In Egypt, where the number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has doubled in the last 30 years, an abundance of highly heterogeneous organizations active in human rights, development and grass-roots activism is to be found. Many of them take CEDAW as an important frame of reference in order to provide their claims, programs and activities with greater legitimacy. This concerns secular-oriented, as well as Islamic or Coptic organizations, which work more or less visibly and explicitly with the frame of reference of CEDAW, and are more or less involved in transnational networks.

Taking the CEDAW convention as an example, this project will investigate, how and which of the foundational ideas there defined have become normative standards in Egypt since the 1981 ratification, and how, on the hand other hand, these have influenced behavior and structures within the Egyptian state. Taking observed changes and continuities within the multi-layered human rights praxis in Egypt as the starting point, the local and international, normative, political and institutional developments shall be documented, in order to clarify these changes. The project will thus investigate, on the one hand, the structural and organizational developments concerning the institutionalization of human rights in Egypt since 1981 and, on the other, the discursive environment around, and the argumentative instrumentalization of, CEDAW-principles especially since the increased involvement of NGOs from 2000, and the thereby initiated process of the socialization of norms.


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