• Rahmawati Baharuddin


According to a labor force participation survey Published in the mid-1980s, when men in rural Syria were asked whether their wives worked a large number of them replied that they did not. But when the question was rephrased as whether they will be forced to hire a replacement if their wives did not assist them in their work, the overwhelming number of them replied in affirmative. This was just one striking example of the invisibility of Arab women in the workforce some two decade ago. We also find, for instance, that in Egypt, where women were thought to comprise 11 percent of the total labor force, samples of rural households in Lower Egypt revealed that half the wives plowed and leveled the land and between 55 and 70 percent were involved in agricultural production and 75 percent were engaged in animal husbandry.

Research by Sullivan had also uncovered a vast proportion of “invisible women” whose work was neither reflected in national statistics nor compensated in monetary terms, yet who worked, on average, longer hours than men. Most of these "invisible" women worked in agriculture or other family-run  businesses, in the domestic economy, or elsewhere in the informal sector. The consequences of invisibility were serious; if the women were not even recognized as workers, they were certainly not going to be given access to the training, credit, and technology necessary for participating in the development process.

 The present paper aims to examine the dynamic of Egyptain working women in historical perspective, including the influence of the state policy towards the empowerment of the women, the barriers for women to work in the private sector, and the attitude toward working women.