03 February 2020
03 February 2020 - Written by PhMuseum
With this series of intimate portraits of female housekeepers in Cairo, Lina Geoushy – one of the AAF x PHmuseum Prize winners – looks to draw attention to the issue of gender inequality among domestic workers in Egypt.
In a patriarchal society where men can expect to control their wives' career choices and have a final say over all household matters, a woman may go out into the world, find a job as a housekeeper, earn money, and support her whole family. However, her power and status at home may not change at all, so she ends up carrying the burden, rather than the privilege of being the sole provider.
The following excerpt from the “Understanding Masculinities 2017” UN Women report illustrates some of these tensions and how they relate to the shift that is occurring in the female-male work paradigm:
"Qualitative research reveals anxiety among men and women about shifting gender roles. Some men described women's work outside the home as a destabilizing force within the family, supplanting the husband's "natural" role as a provider. Others worried about a woman's career drawing her away from her supposedly primary role as caregiver, putting children at risk. Some women were also concerned about the risk of a male backlash against demands for gender equality, making women shoulder more burdens and responsibilities, instead"
Being a woman, documentary photographer, and having been directly impacted by these patriarchal structures, I was drawn towards capturing the strong, intelligent women who are burdened with the financial responsibilities of providing for their families while enduring the societal pressure of expected gender norms.
'Breadwinners' is a record of female housekeepers who are overlooked and relegated to the fringes of Egyptian society. In this personal project, I took a documentary and portrait approach to produce a series of portraits shedding light on and representing female housekeepers employed in homes in Cairo, Egypt. It is also a series of self-education and investigation into the impact of Egyptian culture and the prevailing power of patriarchy on these women's lives.
Female housekeepers in Cairo often take on the role of a surrogate mother at their place of employment, sometimes living in the same house, cooking, cleaning, ironing, and caring for the children in the house. It is not unusual for a domestic worker to be seen as part of the family, even though their duties are in many ways more akin to those of a servant.
More pressing is their treatment under the Unified Labour Law in Egypt. These female domestic workers are not provided with any sort of legal protection. In fact, legislators had actively sought to deprive them of legal protection because they do not understand how to compare a domestic worker to a regular one - their work is not seen as real or worthy of labour protection laws.
The sheer amount of effort and time required of them to do all this work, and yet not be given any appreciation, legal support, or respect deeply resonated with me, and I hope that these portraits prompt viewers to appreciate and celebrate these dignified women and the work they do in their communities.
Words and Pictures by Lina Geoushy.
Lina Geoushy is an Egyptian documentary and portrait photographer. While studying photography at LCC, she began combining her experience in communication and psychology with her passion for telling stories that deconstruct and question the public's perception of the prevailing power of patriarchy. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.
This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.