Voices for Change. Hopes and costs for empowerment – a study on women’s claims in the Egyptian revolution.


Professor em. Mina O’Dowd, Sociologiska institutionen, Lunds universitet. 


Professor Guadalupe Francia, Akademin för utbildning, kultur och kommunikation, avd för pedagogik, Mälardalens högskola, docent Jenny Berglund, Institutionen för historia och samtidsstudier, Södertörns högskola, samt professor Lázaro Moreno Herrera, Institutionen för pedagogik och didaktik, Stockholms universitet. Suppleant är docent Lenita Freidenvall, Statsvetenskapliga institutionen, Stockholms universitet.

Handledare och ordförande

Professor Klas Roth, Institutionen för pedagogik och didaktik, Stockholms universitet. 


This study investigates women’s possibilities to actively participate in societal change in Egypt. It aims at enhancing the understanding of structural conditions for women’s agency and how these enables and/or restrains women’s participation in the aspiration for societal change as well as their aspiration to live a ‘full life’. Egypt was chosen as a field for studying women’s understanding of their opportunities of participation and empowerment before and during the revolution. The informants in the study are all consciously working for awareness and equality in society. Formal education in Egypt is criticized and the country suffers from a high illiteracy rate, making informal education an important way to attain knowledge that can assist women in their quest for societal change. The acknowledgment of participation as a human right is one of the issues women are fighting for in Egypt today. A specific interest in this study is what motivates some women to oppose social, cultural and political structures despite the often high personal cost, and how informal (educational) channels are being used in the quest for societal change. The theoretical construction in which the analysis is carried out is based on frictions between societal structures and agency, using the Capability Approach (Sen, 1999) which aims at understanding what agency women have in societal change. The concept of functionings is used to indicate what someone is able to do and be. By analyzing women’s valued functionings, their conditions and thus their sense of empowerment and their experienced opportunity costs emerge. Central to the analytically framed societal structures and how agency can be perceived within each structure are the social conversion factors, the norms that allow or hinder action. To frame the complexity of women’s conditions for active agency and the outcome of their actions, I use a theoretical framework that will comprise both goals and processes. Sen’s (1999) ideas on social choice along with Archer’s (1995) theory on social change, using her model of structural elaboration / reproduction, have proved useful when investigating women’s valued functionings and attained social changes. The results of the study show that when formal education is not adequate, knowledge is obtained outside the formal educational institutions. This is done through both non-formal and informal learning. However, to get access to informal learning, a number of valued functions have to be gained. These functionings are thus both conditions for change and an end in themselves. I try to show that the costs involved in transgressing the prevailing norms are high, but lack of hope, agency and empowerment are also experienced as a high cost for those who have, in fact, imagined another better life and are in opposition to the inhibitory societal structures. This is, however, a part of what motivates some women to continue to be involved in societal change in order to achieve a life they have reason to value.

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