Comparative Histories of Sex Work in Iran and Egypt

AHA Session 63
Coordinating Council for Women in History 3
Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Grant Park Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Keely Stauter-Halsted, University of Illinois at Chicago
Keely Stauter-Halsted, University of Illinois at Chicago

Session Abstract

This panel brings together historians of prostitution in the twentieth century Middle East and North Africa to discuss the histories of prostitution in Iran and Egypt. As main sites where historical scholarship on women, gender, and sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa region is produced, the two countries provide an opportunity to compare the sex industry in the region under, outside, and beyond conditions of direct colonial rule. The focus will be on the urban centers of Cairo, Alexandria, and Tehran. The panel will also engage with strategies to involve histories of prostitution in the Middle East and North Africa with histories of prostitution globally and to place this scholarship beyond local histories of the Middle East and North Africa.

During the twentieth century, elite middle-and-upper class urban reformers were important agents in shaping the discourse on prostitution and influenced state policies on the sex industry for the working poor. Charting class-based anxieties and the burgeoning of the production of “scientific” studies on prostitution by social workers, anthropologists, medical professionals, and legal scholars, the panel also contributes to histories of class relations in the region. While political conditions and the legal status of women employed in the sex industry varied between Iran and Egypt, the fragmentation of public space became a stable policy during this period.

The panel engages with the following questions: How did the discourse on prostitution in Iran and Egypt shape local policies directed at the sex industry? What role did the religious establishment play? And ultimately, how did women employed in the sex industry manage and navigate these at time conflicting, and shifting, policies.

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