Peasant Women and Rights to Land in Nineteenth Century Egypt: Sites of Resistance?

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2018


The literature on nineteenth-century Egyptian women includes two important themes: one, the tendency of women to resist patriarchy; and two, the ostensibly negative impact of state modernization projects on women. This essay’s exploration of patterns of female land acquisition during the mid-century decades challenges these depictions. It argues that the number of peasant women landholders remained low during the nineteenth century because of the widespread prevalence of the societal notion that identified landholding as a male prerogative, and that this entailed intense male opposition to female landholding as well as the internalization of this notion by the majority of peasant women. This caused women to relinquish their shares of the family land patrimonies to capable men (often relatives) in return for assistance during crisis times. After the introduction of the 1858 land law, women relied on it to negotiate more advantageous land-for-security exchanges with their brothers.