Embedded economy and empowerment: Public/private revisited

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While most Western feminist research perceives the family and kin domains as obstacles to progress and career development in the public sphere - ignoring the influence that Arab-Muslim women exercise in these domains - (Abu-Lughod, 1985; Kabeer and Khan, 2014, 3), this study aims to show that in societies under Western occupation or co- lonialism, such as Afghanistan (Kabeer and Khan, 2014), Sri Lanka (Ramnarian, 2015) and Nepal (Leve, 2007), family and kin relations, along with women's maternal, spousal and social roles, provide a re- source for economic empowerment and influence. This is in opposition to the neoliberal Western perception of individualism as the main road to agency and change.
This paper challenges the public-private binary that perceives the domestic realm in a post-industrial setting as unproductive, promoting a non-dichotomous view of public and private domains in the lives of these women. Ethnographic research conducted in a Bedouin un- recognized village in southern Israel demonstrates that rigid division between these two spheres is virtually absent in the context studied. Bedouin women extend the private sphere into a shared space of women in which they can achieve economic benefit without assuming a dual burden or violating their honor.
Lacking alternative resources for economic security, these women draw on familial and sociocultural resources that serve as social capital convertible into economic credit and empowerment. Their circles em- power women's autonomy and economic independence, while in- creasing authority among mothers and according them greater bar- gaining power in their households.
The study challenges some theoretical assumptions in Western lit- erature with respect to Arab-Muslim societies. Thus, it rejects classic views of patriarchy and gender norms as fixed entities, offering more options for women's agency and bargaining rooted in connective family and kin relations. Moreover, it questions Western and Israeli perceptions of Arab-Muslim “cultural norms”as the main factors re- sponsible for friction between public and private spheres. Instead, this research points to changes in gender norms and women's domestic status through the economic contribution these women make to their families while maintaining connectivity and kin relations. I further suggest that the change these women engender in their kin circles is not only individual, but is also enmeshed in the patriarchal social structure and impacts other agents, such as husbands, extended family and kin- community.
Original languageAmerican English
Article number102297
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
StatePublished - 25 Oct 2019


  • Bedouin women
  • Embedded empowerment
  • Public/private spheres

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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