Accepted paper:

She wore black: Syrian labour and gender on the streets of Beirut


Elizabeth Saleh (American University of Beirut )

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the gendered contours of informal labour on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. Since the start of the 2011 Syrian conflict, the increasing informalization of the economy suggests a potential reconfiguration of dependency in relations of Syrian migrant labours with Lebanese employers.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the gendered contours of informal labour of Syrian Turkmen women trading boxes of tissues and other services on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the informal economy in Lebanon has increased substantially (ILO, 2013). This "informalization" of Lebanon's economy suggests a possible reconfiguration of dependency in the relations between Syrian migrant labour and their Lebanese employers. In the case of Syrian women selling of tissues for prices set by the buyer is often done so through reciprocities of charity. The willingness to forgo social boundaries deemed morally appropriate for gendered economic transactions on the streets is thus mediated through an understanding that these women's presence are a result of desperation due to their displacement from Syria. Despite of their vulnerability, the women, who are in fact mother and daughter, often engage in jokes with one another and also with some of the men who pass by. The joking relations are always laden with sexual innuendos and might be a way in which the women assert their right to share the streets with the men. Yet it is significant that relatively substantial donations of money made by certain regular male customers were not in exchange for tissues and were often given in conjunction with goods such as clothes and jewellery.

panel P27
Reconceptualising labour and dependency: beyond the working and non-working poor