Attitudes Towards Women's Appropriate Work Roles

According to the analysis in chapter 7 on women in the labour force, one tenth of the women surveyed claim to work outside the home, while little over another tenth claim to do some type of income generating work within the home. Thus, not only is women's overall formal labour force participation low, but so is their involvement in home-based income generating activities. While chapter 9 analyzes the difference of opinion that exists between men and women towards women's roles in Palestinian society, this section attempts to look at attitudes among women towards the very important issue of women's right to participate in the labour force.

As has become apparent in other areas of analysis in this chapter, the larger context of political and economic structures and processes delimit the boundaries of action and experience in the occupied territories. Simultaneously, for women, their ability to make decisions and to act within this context tend to be mediated by the social factors of especially age and marital status.

Thus, when analyzing women's attitudes towards a wide variety of social and political issues, it is time and diversity of life experience that most clearly seems to shape women's vision of themselves.
Tables 10.22 - 10.25 depict women's perceptions of the appropriate working roles for women and other work-related issues by age.

Table 10.22 Is it acceptable for women to work outside the house? By age. Percentage

Do not know1131262

Table 10.23 Is it acceptable for women to run a business? By age. Percentage

Do not know02212123

Table 10.24 Would you like your daughter to work in a professional job14? By age. Percentage

Do not know92411135

Table 10.25 Is it acceptable for women to put their children in daycare? By age. Percentage

Do not know22152103

In looking at the totals for the four questions raised, it is clear that a great majority of women (77%) support the general right or appropriateness of women to work outside the home. But what seems to be more important is the actual type of work; while only 53% of women support the idea of women working in business, 86% would like their daughters to hold a professional job. This apparent ambivalence towards women working in business is probably rooted in its association with the tradition of indigenous mercantilism which has historically been viewed as a male domain.
The contradictory nature of women's feelings towards their primary identity (wife and mother versus working women) becomes most clear when looking at their responses to the issues of daycare. Out of all the issues raised, women's right to put their children in daycare (a prerequisite for many women to work) is supported by 57% of all women. When broken down by marital status it becomes clear that married women (63%) are more supportive of this right than unmarried women (46%); and women with children are much more supportive (62%) than women without children (20%). Thus, when daycare is an actual need rather than an abstract idea, women are much less reticent about it.

In general, when looking at attitudes across age categories, the usual assumption is that the older individuals are, the more 'conservative' they are on social issues. This is especially true when dealing with the issue of women and work in the Middle East, which usually assumes that a 'traditional' ideology about women's privatization and modesty slowly became superseded by 'modern' ideologies about women's right to education and work - suggesting that younger women tend to be 'modern' while older women are 'traditional'. However, the above tables make clear that such a conceptualization is too simplistic. On both the issues of the acceptability of women working outside the home and putting their children in daycare, women in the oldest age category seem more 'modern' than women in their teens. Women in the 60+ age category display dispositions similar to those of women in their forties and fifties.

Perhaps the most interesting comparison is the regular difference in attitudes between the age groups 15 to 19 and 20 to 29. On every issue, the youngest age group of women is consistently more conservative than women in their twenties. The important point lies not so much in the degree of difference on the attitudes between these first two age groups, but in the regularity of the differences. This suggests that there might be a larger set of interrelated ideas about women's correct role in society that has had an impact on the young women who came of age during the past few years of the intifada. Stated more directly, the data seems to vindicate observations that there has been a general social retrenchment during the intifada, with women in their teens being most affected by new conservative ideologies.

Tables 10.26 and 10.27 provide an estimate of two of these attitudes, according to age and region.
When comparing age categories and women in West Bank and Gaza respectively, the two points which stand out are: in Gaza, the strong difference between teenagers and women in their twenties; and, in the West Bank, the strong difference between women in their twenties and thirties.
In the West Bank educational achievement explains some of the difference between these two age categories, with women in their twenties being substantially better educated than women in their thirties. Even when controlled for education, a higher percentage of West Bank women in their twenties find it acceptable that married women work outside the house.

Table 10.26 Percentage who answers "yes" to the question: Is it acceptable for women to work outside the house? By age and region.

West Bank76875878807577

Table 10.27 Percentage who answers "yes" to the question: Is it acceptable for women to put their children in daycare? By age and region

West Bank50585265716458

Overall, there are no differences between women living in Gaza and the West Bank when it comes to the question of daycare.

Daycare centers on a large and affordable level (run by women's committees and charitable societies) have only come into general usage over the past 15 years in the occupied territories. Thus, their usage and acceptance would be expected to be greater among women in the first three age groups, who would have had children of pre-school ages during this same period. While in Gaza, women in these younger age groups are somewhat more supportive, in the West Bank there is a surprisingly higher support among women in the upper age categories. In both regions, women in the teen years are the least supportive of daycare.

In conclusion, in both West Bank and especially in Gaza, there is evidence that women in their teen years are more conservative than are women in their twenties towards the range of issues pertaining to women's appropriate working role in society. Despite this, the majority of women support the notion of women working outside the home, but their support increases when the type of work specified is 'respectable', i.e. professional work.


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