Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy

By Richard A. Lobban | Go to book overview

4
The Invisible Economy, Survival, and Empowerment Five Cases from Atbara, Sudan

Nada Mustafa M. Ali

The entrapment of the Sudanese state and society in a multidimensional crisis is a well-documented fact. Civil war, political instability, ecological disasters, refugee influx, economic devastation--all are features of this crisis. Above all it is a crisis of representation and interpretation. I argue in this chapter that for historical, socioeconomic, and political reasons, the power center in the Sudan has been dominated, since independence, by the Northern Sudanese male elite, with the result that the visions of the Arab northern male have defined Sudanese history, culture, and identity. Contributions of "other" identities have been considered inessential.

Although women have played important roles in Sudanese society and the economy, their contributions are usually invisible.1 The ongoing crisis in Sudan, especially in its economic dimension, has highlighted the great value of "women's work" and of coping mechanisms hitherto taken for granted as women's economic activities have become vital for the very survival of many households, particularly in the poor urban areas. In the current state of affairs, there are possibilities for rethinking the Sudanese culture and identity, and it is time for women's voices to be heard. What are women's perceptions of the current crisis, and what are the mechanisms they use in facing this crisis? We need to learn whether women's economic activities have contributed to a change in their self-perceptions, or whether they are still trapped in the dominant patriarchal discourse of "common sense" that relegates women to the position of superfluous "others."

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