Palestinian women have always worked. The image beloved of Western orientalists, of Arab women veiled, secluded and unproductive, may once have been a fair reflection of the lives of the women of Palestine’s leisured urban upper class, but it was never representative of the hard-working rural majority. Peasant women work the land, tend animals, supply the material and social needs of their households. Their work is both productive and reproductive: in a subsistence farming economy the two are hardly distinct. But work in itself, even productive work, does not accord the worker high status and independence. Power follows from control of the means and products of labour, which Palestinian women have not had. According to Islamic law, women can own property and run businesses, but in practice it has been rare for them to be the managers of their own production. In a society organised into patriarchal tribal and extended family units, women’s productive and reproductive functions are appropriated for the prosperity of families, and are controlled by men.
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- Figure derived from the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Quarterly Abstract, 1981; quoted in Sarah Graham-Brown, ‘Economic Consequences of the Occupation’, in Naseer Aruri (ed.) (1984) Occupation: Israel over Palestine (London: Zed Books).Google Scholar