Allan M. Findlay
One of the most striking features of Islamic retailing to a western observer is the distinctly different role of women, both as retailers and shoppers, from that found in other parts of the world. Women have lower participation rates in the sales sector of the labour market as well as less involvement in shopping activities. This chapter explores these phenomena and considers one major force which has begun to erode the male dominance of Islamic retailing. The chapter's empirical base is research work carried out in Jordan in January 1987, when surveys were undertaken both of shoppers from a sample of households and of employees in shops. Particular attention has been paid to the influence of male labour emigration as a catalyst to change in the retail environment.
The purchase or sale of goods in a public place does not in the strict sociological or anthropological definition of the term constitute a male or female 'role'. These activities represent manifestations of much more fundamental individual, familial and societal roles. For women the distinct, but closely interrelated tasks of buying and selling goods bridge several of the so-called 'seven roles of women' (Oppong and Abu 1985) including parental, occupational, and conjugal roles. The fact that in the Islamic retail environment women are underrepresented on both the sides of retailing is not surprising since the same reasons for female subordination underpin both dimensions. To quote Anker and Hein (1986:12):
the subordinate position of women in the labour market and in the home/family are interrelated, and part of an overall social system in which women are subordinate to men.
It is therefore highly appropriate to investigate the retail sector since it provides an opportunity to illustrate the relationship between women's position in the labour market and their position in a broader