Stories of change – Fall 2022
Strengthening Women Entrepreneurs in Egypt
Peering into life near the pyramids.
The great Pyramid and the great Spinx of Giza are two of the most famous wonders of the ancient world. For more than 4,500 years, they’ve stood supreme. While their structure is unchanging, the SWEET project is striving to knock down long-standing structural and social inequalities that prevent women from succeeding.
The program supports national efforts set out in Egypt Vision 2030. Launched by the Egyptian government in 2016, this is an ambitious agenda that aims to make poverty and inequality history.
Here are some key statistics that highlight the challenges and opportunities that exist for women:
An October 2021 study by the Egyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences showed that 44% of women reported exposure to violence, a 6% increase compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Egyptian women’s participation in the Egyptian labour force decreased from 24% in 2019 to 20% in 2021.
Dahshour village in Giza will earn tourism status, bringing new customers and business to women working in the area.
More than 31 million Egyptians (about one-third of the population) have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Egypt was the first country to provide a women-specific response during the pandemic.
Stories of change
SILK, COTTON AND WOOL CARPETS ARE BEAUTIFUL, high-end products that have been handmade in Egypt for centuries. The net profit of a silk carpet is roughly 4,875 Egyptian pounds ($332), and Egypt’s carpet exports amount to USD$324 million. It’s big business, but not for everyone.
More than 17,000 craftspeople work in the industry and are either factory, or home-based. However, they depend entirely on the leading manufacturers to provide looms and materials for production.
“I often find myself in possession of faux silk – or ‘plastic silk,’ as we call it – because I don’t know how to source [real silk],” one craftsperson told us. Craftspeople usually don’t have access to the knowledge and resources they need to sell their products, either. Instead, the manufacturers dominate sales and women are getting (rug) burned.
Women contribute 80% of the industry’s production value, yet, because of cultural norms that limit their activity outside the home, they are restricted to weaving, one of the most-poorly-compensated parts of the value chain. Manufacturers wouldn’t disclose their wage information, but we know a gender pay gap exists.
Plus, the pandemic dealt a severe blow to tourism in Giza, which typically accounts for 90% of carpet sales.
In focus group discussions, men participating in this study agreed that they would hesitate to allow their wives to work outside the home. Meanwhile, the few women who work in factories experience challenges. “When we’re alone in the factory, we can prepare the loom together,” one woman said in a women’s focus group. “One [of us] will go up the ladder to fix it from the top, and the other will support it from the bottom. But we cannot do that when men are around – that would be improper.”
Our carpet-industry value-chain assessment recommended two solutions, which you will support through this project:
- Help women identify market needs and trends so they can make more competitive, in-demand products.
- Develop women’s business skills and connect them to services and new avenues through which to sell their products.
This assessment is invaluable to the project’s long-term success, and we’re excited to implement these learnings moving forward.
“I REALLY ADMIRE THAT THIS PROJECT HAS A COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH to addressing societal issues while also delivering in-depth specialized activities, training and support for women,” says Cheryl Joseph, who oversees the SWEET project. Cheryl has never worked on a project quite like this one. “It has the capacity to meaningfully change these women’s lives,” she says. “This project uses an ‘entrepreneurship ladder’ structure that takes women on a journey toward having greater control over their lives while also providing them with the skills they need to get there.”
The first rung of the ladder is women’s groups and Champions of Change clubs. In these settings, women and adolescents, like 15-year-old Radwa, learn from one another about gender equality and economic rights.
“I used to be an introvert – and alone,” shares Radwa, who was one of the 1,000 girls who participated in the clubs. “After attending the sessions, I started to express myself better and have better relations with my family. My family started to notice the change in my attitude and how I became more assertive. They even encouraged my sister to join the sessions.”
Cheryl adds that assertive communication is taught in a group setting so that women can learn together rather than from a professor. Take Sara, a 27-year-old mother who participated in the women’s group.
“I asked my husband to help me with the children,” says Sara. “I was really afraid that he would reject me. Surprisingly, he didn’t. He said ‘yes’ and started to help with their homework. This is mainly because of how I communicated with him. I asked him in an assertive way.”
Sara’s story demonstrates the power of women coming together to support one another, notes Cheryl. “Attending the group and developing connections with other women helps them believe they can change in their life and have agency. It’s also exciting how it shows that men in Egypt are willing to be allies.”
This step also involves working with men and boys as well as religious and community leaders to change mindsets and cultural norms that limit women’s freedom. “We’re meeting people where they’re at and bringing them on a journey toward gender equality at their own pace,” says Cheryl.
At this stage of the ladder, women are learning the financial-literacy and business skills required for the carpet sector.
THE TOP RUNG!
At this final stage, the women receive mentorship and the support they need to reach the top of the ladder and their ultimate career goals.
After attending the sessions, I started to express myself better and have better relations with my family.”– Radwa, session participant
This past year was a foundational one. You helped change people’s attitudes about women’s roles in society. This shift is key in supporting women on their economic-empowerment journeys. Here’s what has been achieved so far:
participated in Champions of Change clubs, where they learned from educators and peers about economic engagement and came together to build their leadership skills and self-esteem.*
also participated in Champions of Change clubs, learning about gender equality – especially with regards to jobs and decision making – women’s and girls’ rights, preventing gender-based violence, embracing positive masculinity and splitting child care evenly.*
*Behavioural data about people’s attitudes, thoughts and actions on subjects like gender equality are collected at the project’s onset to form a baseline and inform the project’s goals and activities. Data is collected again at the midway and end points of the project to measure its success. Data is also collected during learning sessions.
At the forum, women will participate in advocacy training so they can talk to policymakers, which is pretty exciting. The training encourages women to raise their voices and explain their lived experiences to people in the private sector and ministry officials who can champion their cause within institutions.”– Cheryl Joseph, program manager at Plan International Canada
Thank you for joining us in this effort to advance gender equality in Giza. Year three is on track to accomplish even more important work, including a women’s entrepreneurship forum.
The SWEET project is funded in part by the Government of Canada.
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