Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy

Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy

Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy

Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy

Synopsis

This collection examines the "invisible" women of the Middle East and their vital economic activities. Focusing on daily and domestic life in communities where more than half the population lives and works, these essays highlight the struggles and hardships of women in the region and also establish the distance between this invisible world and the conflict over Islamic issues that dominate headlines in the West.

Excerpt

The invisible economy, the informal economy, the shadow economy, the spontaneous economy: these are relatively new terms in academic writing, coined to describe a phenomenon that does not appear in conventional statistical analysis of economies. This phenomenon is work by women that is unnoticed, uncounted, and unacknowledged. Since such "informal" work is performed daily by thousands of workers but is not included in national or global statistics, the overall economic picture is sadly distorted, especially in the developing world. the book that follows, Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy, is an important and welcome effort to correct that distorted view.

Twenty years ago, it is unlikely that this book would even have been attempted or, if attempted, accepted for publication, since it deals not only with the idea of an informal economy but also with Middle Eastern women. As late as the 1970s, women were stereotyped by perfectly respect- able social scientists as having no role in the economic life of their societies. If they ever had such a role, according to the argument, it lay in the past, when women were part of the agricultural production unit of the extended family. This stereotype of contemporary Middle Eastern women as eco- nomic ciphers was unsatisfactory to many anthropologists, particularly women anthropologists, for it did not reflect the realities of everyday life that they observed in both city and country. in 1971 and 1972 our family, for example, saw a different reality in the old city of Marrakech, where we lived while my anthropologist husband, Bob, was doing fieldwork. All around us in our neighborhood was evidence of women at work, both inside and outside the home, work they performed in addition to their daily chores of housekeeping, cooking, and child care.

Our landlady, a widow, owned three houses on the street, collected the rent in person, and negotiated for repairs with local plumbers and carpen-

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