Egypt: Entrepreneurial success stories of Arab women
Two Arab women who challenged patriarchal traditions and became successful because they believe in themselves. Read the inspiring stories of Aisha and Rawya from Egypt.
Our story begins in Shalatin, an Egyptian city located near the Red Sea in the east, about 1000 kilometers from Cairo. The people living the Red Sea coast are mostly Arab ethnic groups who are engaged in pastoralism, hunting and trading of African camels. In a Bedouin society, the main role of men is to provide livelihood and taking responsibility for the family. The city of Shalatin is one of the most marginalized cities in Egypt since it is far from the central capital and it is not considered as one of the tourist destinations.
Necessity is an inspiration in a society of limited material resources. Women's craft has emerged since ancient times. Today, the production of handmade products helped many women in the communities. They make wicker products for storing jewelry and other uses like storing food and house decoration. They also make beads and leather products for accessories.
The community did not realise the potentials of the craftsmanship they practiced until they were trained to develop their products for market buyers. Yet it was difficult for women to get out of their homes and market their products because their traditions limit their roles to taking care of the family and doing household chores. In addition, they live in a village far from urban areas like Cairo.
Aisha decided to not abide by customs and traditions that prevent women from going out or to play public roles or jobs. She collected the products from the craftspeople and market them in villages where tourists are visiting like the city of Marsa Alam, 250 kilometers from Shalatin. She also made agreements with many hotels to make an exhibition for tourists and strengthened relations with permanent clients such as Fair-Trade Egypt.
Today, Fair Trade Egypt works with women like Aisha to earn additional income. The initiative that Aisha started had helped a group of 80 women. Her story is a living proof that she can be a successful Bedouin entrepreneur. On a personal level, Aisha is a mother of three daughters. The eldest is a university student and the younger children are high school students, which made Aisha proud as her work enabled her to provide education for her children.
Aisha is also proud she is helping other women. She is happy that she did not only inspire other women but also men who accepted and believe in the importance of women’s work.
“I am Rawya. I was raised in one of the rural villages of Fayoum. Most people in my village work as farmers. The location of this beautiful village became an attraction for many writers and artists. I was 14 when started making pottery. Together with other children, we used to make pottery animals to play with.
“An artist called Evelyn came to our village. I decided to work with her to embrace my passion in pottery, and this was the beginning of a journey.
“At that time, the workshops were reserved for men. Despite that, I decided to establish my own pottery workshop. The workshop was small, and it was only me and my husband working there. I dedicated my time on developing my skills in order to create beautiful products that could compete in the market. I used to spend a lot of time working at the workshop, and I travelled to markets in Cairo to sell my products. I was illiterate like most girls in my village as it was not common to allow girls to attend school. I was not able to read customers’ orders or make calculations, so I decided to learn how to read and write and do mathematics.
“I got a chance to travel to France twice to attend exhibitions and represent my village. The exposure provided me contacts with prospective buyers. My workshop grew. Today, I have two workshops with 14 workers.
“I would not have been able to accomplish all of this without the support I got from Fair Trade Egypt. They helped me sell my products and reach more markets in Egypt and abroad.
“People in the village and visitors alike have appreciated my potteries. They started to see things differently and appreciated my efforts and what I had done. Now, I am teaching many of them who wanted to learn my kind of pottery. This makes me proud as I am able to share my success with my people and change their perspective towards the value of women’s work.”
Story contributor: Fair Trade Egypt
For International Women's Day 2018 celebration