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Upswing for Gender Research Following the Arab Spring

Arab gender research has seen a breakthrough and today almost all universities have their own centres for women’s studies or gender studies. An Arab-Nordic project has strengthened the connection between researchers in the two regions.


History offers many examples of how women are bundled back to their traditional roles as homemakers after participating in revolutionary processes, but this has not happened in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, according to Drude Dahlerup, professor of political science at Stockholm University.
‘There has been a strong awareness of this risk and the women’s movements, in particular in Egypt and Tunisia, have put up a lot of resistance. That was noticeable already during the Tahrir Square protests,’ she says.
The demonstrations began almost exactly five years ago. Many women were sexually harassed in connection with the protests in Cairo in the winter of 2011.
‘But they still refused to go home. They would not leave that square. Instead they organised demonstrations against the harassment,’ says Dahlerup.

Women’s rights moving forward 

She has just finished a project titled New Avenues for Political Influence for Women in the Arab Region?, funded by the Swedish Research Council. The project lasted from 2012 to 2015 and was carried out in partnership with Women in Politics Research Network, WIP, at Stockholm University and Center for Arab Women Training and Research, CAWTAR, in Tunis.
‘I saw that the gender research was popping up everywhere at universities in the Arab world. That’s what gave me inspiration for the project,’ says Dahlerup.
While the project has moved forward, the hopes for democracy have evaporated in many of the Arab countries. Yet at the same time, Dahlerup is seeing important signs of progress in the area of women’s rights. For example, both Egypt and Tunisia have introduced quotas for women’s representation in the national parliaments. The upswing observed for gender research and the growing numbers of female researchers are other signs of this development, she says. The breakthrough for gender research is particularly noticeable in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, but research is also starting to come out of Algeria, Palestine and Yemen.

A shared platform

The Arab-Nordic project has given researchers from the Arab and the Nordic countries a shared platform for collaboration and exchange. Activities arranged within the framework of the project include a course for doctoral students studying women’s presence in the public space. The participating doctoral students came from different Arab and Nordic countries.‘That was probably the best thing that came out of the project. Everybody was so enthusiastic,’ says Dahlerup.As part of the project, she and a researcher from CAWTAR also wrote progress reports for gender research in the two regions. The assessment of the Nordic countries shows that the number of books and articles written in English has increased dramatically in recent decades.‘One reason for this is that the number of gender researchers has increased, but I also believe we have become more international,’ says Dahlerup.She thinks very positively of the ongoing internationalisation process.‘Gender research is growing globally and I think it’s important that we can compare things with each other. Looking at the situation in other countries can help open our eyes to our own structures,’ she says.
She hopes that the networks that have been established through the Arab-Nordic project will lead to new collaborations between researchers in the different countries.‘Now we know each other. I hope we have started something that can continue to grow,’ she says.

Updated 18 April 2020