Authors: Ragui Assaad , Hania Sholkamy
This paper illustrates the complementarities between women’s work and their private and intimate choices. The engagements of women in Egyptian labour markets are determined to some extent by their personal life trajectories. The fabled low rates of formal employment for women are a function of the gender roles that women choose to or are compelled to play. Work and marriage choices are linked and have mutual bearings on one another. This dynamic is examined with reference to both qualitative and quantitative empirical evidence drawn from recent work in Egypt. The degree to which women’s sexual/intimate lives and their work options and opportunities are linked is made clear through analysis of this data. Women work to sustain their families and relationships but at times they choose to not work, or rather pretend not to work so as to prop up persistent and socially sanctioned gender roles. The ‘liberating’ or ‘empowering’ potential of paid work in particular is realised if the conditions of work bring a woman status. The income from work may relieve women from financial strictures and burdens but may not necessarily transform power imbalances in their lives or provide women with significant security or choices. The sexual contract is still a potent and profound asset that defines agency and choices in ways that market and work relationships have yet to realize.