Locals & Aliens: Maids in Contemporary Egypt

PhD Thesis

Ahmed, Amira A. 2009. Locals & Aliens: Maids in Contemporary Egypt. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Social Sciences and Humanities
AuthorsAhmed, Amira A.
TypePhD Thesis

Worldwide, the scale and the complexities of migration - including patterns of 'globalised migration' are increasingly rising. In this research, I examine the impacts of contemporary globalisation on the migrant 'third
world' and the role of women in both internal and cross-border migration systems in post-colonial locations. In
particular, this study is concerned with paid domestic workers in Cairo, the capital city of Egypt. Although there
is a glaring dearth in studies on domestic labour in Egypt, it is observed that domestic work in contemporary Egypt continues to be greatly associated with migrant groups; whether internal (rural-urban) or cross-border migrants arriving from other African and Asian countries, or transit migrants coming mainly from the horn of Africa, i.e. Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

Thus, the study highlights the unprecedented transformations within the labour market of paid domestic work and scrutinises the increasing diversities and hierarchies which have been taking place within this market. The study addresses several intersected themes such as prevailing gender politics, historical ethnic and class
relations, migration streams and policies and labour market dynamics, all of which focus on and provide interpretations that help in understanding the situation of paid domestic workers in Cairo.

Emphasising the interplay and relations of gender, class and nationality, the study analyses how women conceptualise their experiences, their resistance mechanisms, incorporation patterns in the labour market and their legitimate aspirations for protection and security. It also explores the ways in which these self-perceptions are shaped by the intersecting socio-economic, cultural and political surroundings of the migration site and how
they can contribute to the construction of multiple identities that eventually place them in a diversity of
gendered occupational hierarchies in the labour market. Given the widespread exploitation and abuses encountered by domestic workers, the study appreciably accounts for and documents the immense amount of suffering, discrimination, humiliation and social degradation experienced by Cairo's domestic workers. The research finally aims to understand how these experiences in the lives of the Sudanese women compare with and contrast to those of local domestic workers of Egyptian origins.

The research is a multi-disciplinary work. It draws on a wide range of theoretical accounts as well as first hand
empirical insights. I have implemented a feminist-oriented qualitative methodology based on in-depth interviews
undertaken with refugee women and urban domestic women workers (maids) in Cairo who have been living in Cairo over the past two decades. It is recognised that, as such, the research's findings are of demonstrative value rather than as statistically representative of all domestic workers in Cairo. Women domestic workers who have participated in the research were identified through a snowballing technique. A number of employers, agents and NGOs representatives were also interviewed.

Overall, the findings of this study challenge the western-centric conceptions that portray the 'third world' as a
pool of transnational workers. The findings suggest the need for alternative approaches that de-homogenise 'third world' migrant domestic workers and consider their differentiated positions. Moreover, the study calls for
the importance of the inclusion of the under-theorised internal migrants and local domestic workers within the
contemporary debates and discourses on globalisation and migration.

KeywordsCairo; Consumerism; Domestic work
Publication dates
PrintJun 2009
Publication process dates
Deposited28 Oct 2013
Additional information

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