Girls, labor, and sex in precolonial Egypt, 1850-1882

Liat Kozma*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

4 Scopus citations


On the night of October 8, 1864, a girl named Sariyya was crushed to death in a cotton press factory in Alexandria. The accident took place after dark, in the female section of the factory. The division of labor in the factory was gendered: while the men were responsible for pressing the cotton on the upper level, the women dealt with the cotton that came out of the shafts of the pressing machine on the lower level. The woman in charge of the female workers, a woman named Imbaraka, sat outside of the factory at the time of the accident. She explained that she usually left the room after helping the workers settle in their positions and did not see her presence there as necessary. Most important for our purpose, the investigation revealed that most of the "women" working in the factory, including Sariyya herself, were ten years old or younger. Alexandria's appellate court found Imbaraka guilty of harmful negligence for failing to supervise her workers in these hazardous after-dark conditions, and the Supreme Court sentenced her to one month's imprisonment. Then, in an edict that displays the complexity of delimiting girlhood and womanhood in precolonial Egypt, the court ordered all government agencies to disallow the work of "women under ten" after dark, in order to prevent the occurrence of such accidents in the future.1 Establishing its role as the protector of girls, the court still conceptualized working females as women.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationGirlhood
Subtitle of host publicationA Global History
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9780813547046
StatePublished - 2010


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