In this project, I explore and problematize the demarcation of religious versus secular based women's activism in Egypt. In doing so, this thesis accompanies the body of literature that contests liberal feminists' assumptions that Islam and gender justice are incompatible and that Muslim women's lives are linked to religious and cultural factors only. Through fieldwork at the Cariene women's NGO, Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA), this thesis reveals that women's rights work can operate within frameworks, which are rooted simultaneously in liberal secular ideas, and Islamic discourses of gender justice. CEWLA is an organization that aims to establish equity among citizens and runs myriads of right based- and development driven projects. The center bases its mission and objectives on the international human rights conventions of which CEDAW is a significant reference. However, the organization systematically engages Islamic discourse throughout their work. The deployment of religion encourages dialogue and provides a space where discourses of women's rights work, gender justice, and Islam can convene and be debated. This thesis argues that the members of CEWLA navigate among the multiple discourses at play in women's right work and the Egyptian society. Since religion is a vital discourse on which people's social imagination is structured, it becomes axiomatic for CEWLA members to deploy religious knowledge. Through analyzing how CEWLA recognizes the complex and non-clear cut religious and secular dimensions in Egypt, I locate the deployment of religious discourse within the wider debate on women's right work and gender justice in an era of transnational feminism.


Cynthia Nelson Institute for Gender and Women's Studies

Degree Name

MA in Gender & Women's Studies

Graduation Date


Submission Date

February 2012

First Advisor

Rieker, Martina

Second Advisor

al-Sharmani, Mulki



Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Non-governmental organizations -- Egypt.

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Women's rights -- Egypt.


The author retains all rights with regard to copyright. The author certifies that written permission from the owner(s) of third-party copyrighted matter included in the thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study has been obtained. The author further certifies that IRB approval has been obtained for this thesis, or that IRB approval is not necessary for this thesis. Insofar as this thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study is an educational record as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 USC 1232g), the author has granted consent to disclosure of it to anyone who requests a copy.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Not necessary for this item