“How to study gender in the Middle East and North Africa?” A masterclass with Hania Sholkamy

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Analyses that systematically take Islamic religion or the Arab region as a central point of departure fall short of understanding existing discrepancies between idealized norms/discourses and real-life experiences. Qualitative research methods that foreground a gender perspective offer many opportunities for insight, when their underlying theoretical and epistemological assumptions are grasped as well. To avoid that words become their own analysis, analytical skills and a thorough understanding of the structures of society and dynamics of change are required. By means of a selection of reading materials, this class wants to address current central topics and debates within the sociology/anthropology of gender in the Middle East and reflect on qualitative research methodologies.

Hania Sholkamy is an Egyptian anthropologist with a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, The University of London. She is currently assistant professor at the Social Research Center of the AUC and is also affiliated with the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Program of the university. Prior to her current position she has held positions with the department of anthropology of the AUC, has been a Research Associate at the International Population Council and was the Ioma Evans Pritchard Junior Research Fellow at St. Anne’s College, Oxford University. Her research interests and publications are mainly in the fields of health, particularly reproductive health, gender, population and qualitative methods. She has co-edited two volumes, one titled Categories and Contexts: Anthropological and Historical Studies in Critical Demography (OUP) with S. Szreter and A. Dharmalingam and another titled Health and Identity in Egypt (AUC press) with F. Ghanam.

Background information

The point of departure of this master class is the observation of increased (and still increasing) social antagonism surrounding issues of gender, sexuality and women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa. Available repertoires of discourses on women and gender have become strongly antagonized in recent decades and especially since the events of 9/11. Despite decades of feminist activism in the region, women’s rights are still often perceived as a foreign import, and many women still refuse the proposal of being liberated or ‘saved’ by international actors or development programs (Abu-Lughod 2004, 2013). This antagonism differentiates between Western-promoted ideas of (gender) justice and “indigenous” notions of social and gender justice that are framed in terms of national tradition or the tradition of Islam. Subsequently, foreign aid often proves to be problematic in the realm of gender justice and women’s rights.

The second observation concerns the call to recognize that the major changes in women’s social status in the course of the last century were initiated by larger social, political and national movements, rather than by feminist or women’s rights activists. This point has been made again during the series of national uprisings across the MENA region starting in December 2010. As an effect of these large-scale uprisings, society at large has been re-politicized. The question of gender justice and equality unfolds in a changed landscape. Whereas gender was redominantly discussed in a developmental paradigm before the uprisings, we can see evidence of a paradigm shift towards a re-politicization of gender on the one hand, and a re-inclusion of gender within charity organizations on the other hand. This master class deals with the question of re-orienting our qualitative research methods in these dynamic gender landscapes the Middle East and North Africa.

Practical information

The master class will take place on Wednesday 25 June 2014 from 13.00 - 17.00, in the meeting room of the Department of Conflict and Development Studies (1st floor), Universiteitstraat 8 in Gent.

We welcome both graduate students and junior/senior staff members with a research focus on gender studies and/or the Middle East.

For more information and registration, please contact Sigrid.vertommen@ugent.be

The organization of this master class was made possible with the kind support of the Doctoral Schools UGent