In 1956, Naguib Mahfouz published his masterpiece “Palace Walk” which portrayed early 20th century Egypt. Amina, the obedient wife of her dominant husband, is one of the unforgettable characters. Despite being members of the family, neither Amina nor her daughters had any significant roles in the decision-making within the household, not even in their very personal matters. Yet, over the last hundred years, Egyptian society has witnessed major changes that uplifted the situation for women. From the kitchen to the parliament, Egyptian women have undertaken a challenging journey. But how far did the 21st century Egyptian woman really depart from her great grandmother, Amina?
Instead of telling individual stories, let’s look at some data. In the most recent Egyptian Labor Market Panel Survey (ELMPS 2012), the Economic Research Forum (ERF) and the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) asked around 8,000 married women and 3,000 unmarried women about the main decision-maker on different issues in the household. The findings provide us with some interesting insights.
For married women, their main rival in the decision-making in the household is the husband. The chart presented in figure (1) shows us the percentage of decisions made by a certain family member on a set of various domestic issues. Interestingly, women are doing well in their participation in decision-making. The data highlights that shared decision-making is the dominant form of managing household affairs. Yet, traditional gender roles are still prevalent. For example, while wives are the main actor to decide on the food to be cooked, husbands play the role of breadwinners as indicated by their dominance in deciding on household purchases. In a nutshell, on average, three quarters of the decisions made within the household involve the participation of the wife.
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The situation for unmarried women, including never married, widowed, and divorced women, is less fortunate than their married counterparts. Unmarried women have relatively low influence in their households. 60 percent of the decisions made within the household exclude the unmarried female members. It is disappointing to learn that adult female unmarried members have a say in only 60 percent and less than half of decisions on buying their own clothes and visiting family and friends, respectively. Interestingly, mothers play a role in limiting their daughters’ role. However, we have to be aware that this could be due to the fact that mothers carry a bigger portion of the responsibilities within the household.
This data gives us some good news that Amina is no longer the typical Egyptian woman. Married Egyptian women seem to actively participate in the everyday decisions within their households. Although unmarried women might be less lucky, their opinions are still regarded on several matters. Finally, we have to be aware that this data covers only a minor side of the everyday life of Egyptian families.