Work, gender and power : types of employment and women's empowerment in the family
This study is an examination of the role of work in shaping - or not shaping - women's perception of their position in the family and their relationships to their husbands. Our objective is to examine the impact of two different types of informal employment on the perception of women as to their relative power in the household - in terms of access to resources and decision-making. To test the hypothesis about this impact we interviewed a sample of women market traders operating in the public markets to compare them with a group of secluded home-based producers in two poor neighbourhoods in Cairo. The comparison covers broad aspects of the working women's lives: their work, their household arrangements and aspects of their personal autonomy. Quantitative measures are used to assess relative power vis-à-vis the husbands of the women. The initial focus in this study was on the place of work, this defining the difference between the two groups of women. However, during the work, it emerged that another aspect was important: the specific social organisation of work. Women's access to and control over their earnings was also an important factor affecting their perception of their power within the household. Furthermore, all this assumes a dynamic historical context which is itself affecting gender roles and the social structure within which these households operate. In general, the results show that the type of work has some impact on women's perception. They also indicate that women's control over their work seems to correlate closely with the degree to which, in economic activity, husband and wife work in different contexts. Those seeing themselves as least empowered work at home under the direction of their husband. The data suggest that the effects of employment on women's perception are contradictory. To understand these contradictions and account for them we argue that it is women's perception that affected their choice of the type of work in the first place. The prior social programming, within the specific historical context of their lives and of Egypt, led to the choice of work, rather than the work on its own producing some form of social transformation.