The Feminization of Precarious Labour

These women mostly undertake hard labour with their “usual” patience, precision, resilience, selflessness, and great capacity for sacrifice - all of which are characteristics that are presumed to be inherently “feminine”.

Nahla Chahal

Professor and researcher in political sociology Editor in Chief, Assafir Al Arabi

Fourate Chahal Al-Rekaby - Lebanon

This publication has benefited from the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. This text may be reproduced in part or in full, provided the source is acknowledged.

Every day, women “help” with domestic, agricultural, and craft work, mostly without pay nor recognition of the value of their work. In times of family crisis, they take it upon themselves to become the primary, or even the only, breadwinners and caregivers. This folder reveals the large proportion of women who do this, while social acknowledgement of their efforts remains scarce. These women mostly undertake hard labour with their “usual” patience, precision, resilience, selflessness, and great capacity for sacrifice - all of which are characteristics that are presumed to be inherently “feminine”.

Society often exploits these “characteristics”, which have actually been acquired by women through a long history of social labour division enforced by their oppression. Even when they work in formal sectors, women are assigned the tasks that are deemed “suitable” for their characteristics and their “nature”. More importantly, women’s wages and their importance of their labour are both undervalued, and their legal and human rights are incessantly overlooked.

The growth of a parallel, informal economy, which has become the prevalent economy in our countries in particular, and the deteriorating social and living conditions of the vast majority of people, only served to further reinforce this position of women, allowing them to be extracted from the framework of the family to the larger context of the market.

The third leap in the feminization of precarious labour came with the erosion of the frameworks and laws governing labour due to the so-called “new patterns” of production that are often touted as “modern”. The modes of production in what became known as the “gig economy” rely on the auto-organization of freelance work and forego accrued labour rights such as benefits, social security, maximum hours of work, etc.

Within the parallel economy, as within the gig economy, male and female workers both plunge – almost competitively - to this precarity, as their work conditions deteriorate every day.

The nine texts of the folder are from five countries. They paint the portraits of women working in various work sectors and recount personal histories that invoke compassion, admiration and respect. We stand in sisterly solidarity with Fatima M., who is said to be a “stay at home” mother, Sabrine the street vendor, Um Abdelrahman who works in a wood workshop, Muna the tea seller, Zainab who works in fish canning factories, Nadia who works in textile factories, and with every female worker who provides goods and services through the Internet, works agricultural lands, or labours at big factories. To them, we extend the solidarity of the women researchers, writers, translators, and artists who have worked on preparing this folder with much love.  

The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of Assafir Al-Arabi and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation cannot accept any liability for it.

Translated from Arabic by Serene Husni

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