In this article, I discuss the ways in which the bureaucracy of absorption centres in Israel disempowered Ethiopian women immigrants by promoting a strict gender division of labour within a ‘family unit’ that reflected wider social structures in Israel. In their interactions with Ethiopian immigrants, the officials running the absorption centres enhanced the idea of a ‘family unit’, and the gendered power relations within it, by transferring resources to family units through the men, and trying to restrict women to the home and to the absorption centre. The different ways in which women and men were treated by officials grew out of bureaucratic needs, as well as reflecting Israeli social arrangements and bureaucrats’ own gender and ethnic stereotypes. My arguments have wider implications for other forms of temporary settlement of displaced or migrant populations, where bureaucratic structures mediate between them and the resources that they need.
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