In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) education is widely understood to play a key role in promoting gender equality and economic empowerment. In the MENA region generally, and Egypt in particular, "early-marriage" is implicated as one of the main barriers to educational access for girls living in rural areas. In 2001 inspired by the Egyptian Government's commitment to the principles of the United Nations Girl's Education Initiative (UNGEI), Population Council in Egypt developed Ishraq, a literacy and life-skills program targeting rural and adolescent out-of-school girls in Upper Egypt. This dissertation examines how conceptions of womanhood are framed at varying levels of the international development landscape, and the extent to which they affect and are affected by national policy considerations (represented by the UNGEI and the Ishraq Program) and local understandings around education and marriage in rural Upper Egypt. This research is guided by the assumption that education policy formation is grounded in particular values regarding the role and purpose of education for girls. Through utilizing a vertically-oriented design, this dissertation explores how international and national policy discussions come to shape the construction and implementation of development programs targeting girls at local levels. Emerging from my conversations, interviews, and many observations with former Ishraq participants, program stakeholders, and other young women in rural Upper Egypt - are varied experiences and understandings that participants related regarding what it means to be a "modern" woman in rural Upper Egypt during this current revolutionary moment. What is revealed is an interplay between transnational development discourse and how particular women in rural Upper Egypt women engage in the social contests concerning marriage and education. The experiences and understandings of participants situated at the most local levels suggest a dynamism and complexity around these social contests that is all but left out of the prevailing policy documents, program materials, and among the views of those responsible of the funding and design of the Ishraq program. Moreover, participants experiences with safety and security in rural Upper Egypt during this most recent period of political transition appears to be contributing to the further isolation of rural communities.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2015. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisors: Roozbeh Shirazi, Gerald Fry. 1 computer file (PDF); xvi, 205 pages.
Competing and contesting constructions of ‘modern’ womanhood: A vertical case study examining the effects of international development discourse on marriage and education in rural Upper Egypt.
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