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  • 1.
    Sundkvist, Emma
    Lund University. Faculties of Humanities and Theology.
    Feminism during social and political repression in Egypt: making or breaking resistance through legal activism2018In: Gender in Human Rights and Transitional Justice / [ed] John Idriss Lahai & Khanyisela Moyo, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, Vol. S. 17-43, p. 17-43Chapter in book (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Scholarly work on feminists’ use of law reveals a complex reality where social and political domains, practices, and institutions are at play. Law as an instrument for improving gender justice is also the arena where obstacles to achieving greater gender equality remain (Cornwall & Molyneux, Third World Quarterly, 27(7), 1175–1191, 2006). Feminist scholars have debated law’s role within feminist activism concerning questions of identity politics, conditioned citizenships, and the state’s role. In recent years, influential feminists have criticized the role of law in feminist projects and argued that feminists should shift focus from the identity project (Hekman, Feminist Theory, 1(3), 289–308, 2000; Lloyd, Beyond identity politics: Feminism, power & politics. SAGE, London, 2005; Zerilli, Feminism and the abyss of freedom. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2005) and legal activism (Brown, States of injury: Power and freedom in late modernity. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1995; Brown & Halley, Left legalism/left critique. Duke University Press, Durham, 2002; Butler, Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. Routledge, New York, 2006; Halley, Split decisions: How and why to take a break from feminism. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2006) to other forms of activism outside of state institutions and the legal apparatus. Their claim is that as law is not a neutral instrument, legal activism has a cost to other projects for political change. While these ideas could be argued to be relevant only in the context of liberal democracies, theories of law, rights, and legal activism should also be applicable to the idea of human rights and human rights activism, which are pressing issues in non-democratic societies where human rights abuses are common. How, then, does this critique of feminist legal activism play out in repressive states and less-open societies where the public space is strictly regulated and controlled? Can the relationship between law and politics be asserted in the same way in all different societies or does legal activism have different outcomes depending on the political context? These questions are explored in this chapter by drawing from fieldwork and interviews with Egyptian feminist activists and their struggle for political and social change.

  • 2.
    Sundkvist, Emma
    Lund University. Faculties of Humanities and Theology.
    Human rights as law, language, and space-making: women’s rights movement in post-revolutionary Egypt2022Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
    Abstract [en]

    This dissertation analyses feminist activists’ use of human rights in post-revolutionary Egypt from 2011 to 2019. Drawing on interviews with feminist activists under three fieldwork trips, the dissertation investigates how: activists tried to implement gender equality in the country’s new constitutions, navigated the shrinking public space after 2013, sustained their activism against sexual violence despite a fragmented movement and repressive politics, and how we can understand contentious streets activism against sexual violence from a human rights perspective. The overarching question is how activists pursue human rights activism in a post-revolutionary setting, focusing on what function human rights are given in a context of some opportunities but also growing constraints. To answer that question, the dissertation develops a three-dimensional framework that conceptualises human rights as law, language, and space-making. The dissertation thereby contributes to theories of human rights activism as well as research on women’s rights activism in post-2011 Egypt. The three-dimensional framework helps to capture and analyse how human rights – whether used as law, language, or space-making – challenge different societal and political aspects of women’s rights.

    The findings and arguments draw primarily on semi-structured and in-depth interviews conducted under fieldwork trips in 2013, 2015, and 2019. The study also involves ethnographic observations and text analysis. The analysis of these source materials is based on the ontological position that to know what human rights are, we need to explore how activists use human rights and the ways in which they navigate their political surrounding. This position invites scholars to avoid applying pre-defined understandings of human rights and instead investigate how certain political conditions facilitate different modes of activism and what meanings and functions human rights acquire in them.

    The thesis comprises four original articles. Article 1 concerns the drafting of two Egyptian constitutions after 2011 and how feminist activists attempted to integrate gender equality into different versions. The article argues that while activists used international human rights principles and a feminist definition of equality as their starting points, they also had to navigate the politics of the Egyptian constitution-making process to find resonance within their communities. Article 2 analyses the period after 2013, a period when the Egyptian political landscape became more oppressive under the rule of President Abd el Fattah el-Sisi. This article focuses on how activists pursued human rights advocacy during such conditions. It argues that, in a context where mobilization and activism for human rights are restricted, legal activism may have means and implications other than reinforcing state power. Article 3 concerns how young feminists try to sustain their activism, especially in their work against sexual violence, which became rather fragmented in the decade since the revolution. The empirical material comes from 2019, a point at which women’s rights were integrated with revolutionary memories and emotions and gained a function of keeping the feminist struggle alive. The final Article 4 analyses the movement against widespread sexual violence in the turbulent political landscape from 2011 to 2013. By developing the concept of human rights as space-making, this article reveals how activism for women’s right to bodily integrity transformed into a movement that claimed women’s rights to reconstitute the preconditions for Egyptian politics.

  • 3.
    Sundkvist, Emma
    Human Rights Studies, Lund University.
    Human Rights as Space-Making: Bodily Performative Activism Against Sexual Violence in Egypt2023In: Nordic Journal of Human Rights, ISSN 1891-8131, E-ISSN 1891-814X, Vol. 41, no 2, p. 133-150Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    This article introduces the concept of space-making as a form of human rights activism. To develop the concept, I use the example of contentious street activism against sexual violence in post-2011 Egypt. My research has found that feminist activists utilised human rights as a legal tool for improving legislation and policy and as a linguistic strategy to challenge derogatory discourse. Using human rights in these two ways required that activists identify violations of rights and articulate their demands. Yet the contentious street activism in Egypt against sexual violence did not contain verbal utterances, so it cannot be captured through these two dimensions of human rights. In this article, I explore how to capture and analyse activism that sits within a human rights framework, but which is devoid of specific rights claims or clarified motives, where the focus seems instead to be on the public space. By engaging with theories of performativity, vulnerability, rights claiming, and subjectivisation, I argue that through modes of activism against sexual violence that take the form of performative bodily enactments of space, people convert themselves into the human rights subjects they are told they cannot be.

  • 4.
    Sundkvist, Emma
    Human Rights Studies, Lund University , Sweden.
    Navigating Human Rights, Feminism, and History: Egyptian Feminist Activists’ Demands for Constitutional Equality, 2012–20142022In: Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society, ISSN 1072-4745, E-ISSN 1468-2893, Vol. 30, no 1, p. 47-68Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    This article analyzes the efforts of Egyptian feminist activists to insert gender equality in the country’s post-revolutionary constitutions in 2012 and 2014. While the literature on women’s political role during this period provides insights into exclusionary gender practices and conditions for bargaining power structures, this study contributes with a conceptual analysis of how feminist activists construed constitutional gender equality. The study is based on interviews with, and written statements by, activists engaged in the constitutional process. The article argues that these activists viewed the constitution as a central instrument in the struggle for gender equality and demanded a gender equality model beyond the sameness/difference paradigm. Instead, they argued for a substantive notion of gender equality that reflected women’s situated experiences while they, at the same time, navigated the legacies of Egypt’s earlier constitutions.

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