Legislating Gender in Mandate Palestine: Colonial Laws on Midwifery, Employment, and Marriage

  • Elizabeth BrownsonEmail author
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


This chapter uses colonial legislation as an analytical lens to examine Palestinian women’s status under the British Mandate (1920–1948), focusing on employment, midwifery, and minimum marriage age laws. When government legislation specifically targeted women, it tended to restrict women’s autonomy and focus on non-elites, who were the vast majority of Palestinian women during this period. Employment and midwifery ordinances particularly targeted working-class women and caused financial difficulties for many because the laws imposed manifold constraints on women’s work, such as forbidding women from working in so-called dangerous occupations and prohibiting unlicensed midwives to provide any health care beyond midwifery. Such regulations on midwifery also had the consequence of limiting rural Palestinians’ access to health care because only Western-educated health workers were authorized to perform most medical services. Indeed, government officials were far more interested in inspecting and disciplining midwives than with increasing access to acutely needed health care. However, many Palestinian women used innovative strategies to resist government regulations. Finally, British officials criminalized marriages involving girls under fifteen years old, but there was no penalty for marrying underage boys even though they were also susceptible to early marriage. The article included a proviso that effectively allowed underage marriage for girls, however, suggesting that this law was intended to promote Britain’s reputation rather than to encourage meaningful social change. This chapter argues that colonial employment, midwifery, and marriage laws disadvantaged Palestinian women’s position during the Mandate period because they limited women’s economic opportunities and legalized child marriage. Also, it will show that the government’s treatment of Palestinian women corresponded with its larger objectives of controlling its colonial subjects, regulating health care, presenting a benign image of Britain’s presence in Palestine, and propagating British constructs of gender among the colonized.



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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Wisconsin-ParksideKenoshaUSA

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