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Year: 2008 Type: Book Chapter Language: English

This chapter argues that the instrumentalist approach to women’s empowerment has created a broad near consensus around some rights, but has failed to engage with the political processes which determine how rights in general are defined and made operational in society. The timid approach to gender rights as an avenue to well-being has failed to question why these rights have been denied, and how this denial has been ideologically legitimized. Unitary and rigid interpretations of religion, culture, and tradition have been doled out as reasons why the structural meanings of empowerment are unsuited to and unpopular in Arab Muslim countries. The contest between the basic needs approach to empowerment and the more radical rights-based approach defines current approaches to gender and empowerment. This paper will argue for analytical clarity as a path to a more politically engaged project of gender and rights. Using empirical evidence and observations mostly from Egypt, the paper presents an argument why basic needs approaches may have served the goal of gender equity by building popular consensus around goals of gender equity. However, the basic needs approach has also undermined the right to equity by making it seem like a radical one, that according to many a western project removes women from the contexts of their culture, tradition, religion and history.

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