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“How to study gender in the Middle East and North - KU Leuven

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Ghent University (MENARG and CICI), University of Antwerp (History Department), KU Leuven (Interculturalism,
Migration and Minorities Research Centre) and VUB (Centre for Gender and Diversity)
kindly invite you to
“How to study gender in the Middle East and North Africa?”
A master class with Hania Sholkamy
25th of June, 13:00 – 17:00 - Ghent University
This master class aims to reflect on qualitative research methodologies that are often used when
studying gender in the Middle East. It has become common knowledge among critical gender
scholars that avoiding cultural essentialism is primordial. 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 predominantly 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.
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