SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

El-Kholy, Heba Aziz (1998) Defiance and compliance : Negotiating gender in low-income Cairo. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

[img] PDF - Submitted Version
Download (18MB)


This thesis explores how low-income women in Cairo respond to gender inequalities in their daily lives, both in the household and in the informal labour market. The aim is to generate knowledge about the diversity of gender relations and ideologies in the Egyptian context and to contribute to broader theoretical debates regarding gender and resistance, with a view to informing both policy and feminist activism. The thesis argues that a modified concept of "everyday forms of resistance" provides a way forward for a more nuanced and contextualized understanding of women's responses to their positions of relative subordination, than do either Marxist approaches to power and consciousness, or the a-historical usage of the notion of patriarchy. The study is based on participant observation and in-depth interviews in four low-income neighbourhoods in Cairo over a period of 15 months. Within the household, research focused on four specific arrangements: pre-marital expectations, marriage negotiations, sexuality, and intra-household decision making. With the labour market, two types of women's work were explored; home-based piece-work, and waged work in small-scale workshops. The links between women's options in workplace and in the household were examined. Results of this exploratory study show that women's perceptions and responses are varied, complex, contradictory and in continuous flux as they interact with broader socio-economic conjunctures. Women displayed both defiance and compliance, both a lack of articulated awareness of their self-interest, and high levels of awareness of some of the injustices against them as women. Sometimes, their actions were pragmatic seeking immediate relief. At other times, they sought more medium or longer-term gains. In some instances, they acted individually and covertly and at other times they acted collectively and articulated their discontent forcefully. Any single conclusion about women's agency would thus be erroneous. Attempts to advance women's interests are also bound to be varied and complex.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:04

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item