Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy

By Richard A. Lobban | Go to book overview

8
Women and Home-Based Microenterprises

Marie Butler

The role of Egyptian women in rural agriculture as household producers is well known.1 Although women's contribution to the rural labor force is undercounted and officially unenumerated,2 women have traditionally generated income for families living at or near subsistence level. What is increasingly controversial is the undocumented role of women in the informal, or "invisible," sector of the economy who produce goods and services for production that is surplus to family survival.

Recent innovations in technical assistance include foreign capital investment that goes to small farmers who have not previously qualified for credit from indigenous sources. Traditional methods of production targeted for improvements include enterprises in which surpluses produced in the past have been sold to local markets, such as dairy products, vegetables, and poultry. Technical assistance addresses small-scale agribusiness through improved methods, new seed varieties, and systematic care and feeding of caged birds.

This case study focuses on an upgraded chicken battery of ninety-six birds, three or four birds per cage, which is based on credit to small farmers under government and foreign assistance sponsorship. The study points out women's level of contribution to the household income. The evidence suggests that this cooperative venture differs from urban petty commodity production as a result of direct foreign aid intervention for rural agricultural households. This chapter, which explores the sociocultural context of the household organization of female labor, suggests that the nature of the enterprise and the availability of inputs fit naturally with laboring responsibilities of women.

The evidence also suggests that the subsidized supports have the poten-

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