Many stay-at-home mothers in Egypt were working women before they became mothers and had to quit their jobs to be able to raise their children. Many would also like to be able to work part-time again.
Asmaa Al-Shimi is the stay-at-home mother of two children in Cairo who went through the same decisions, but later decided to change this norm. She took a part-time job provided that she could work from home, and she is now helping other mothers do the same through her initiative called “More than a Mother.”
“I used to have a full-time job, but when I got married I quit my job and stayed at home. I started to feel depressed and felt that something was not right, however, and that was really the beginning of my idea. I looked for a job with a limited number of hours each day so that I could still take care of my children,” Al-Shimi said, adding that she had enrolled in many training courses to be able to apply for a part-time job.
“I felt successful because I could work at home, and I wanted to help my unhappy female relatives and friends who were going through the same challenges and wanted to do something similar. It was then that I started the initiative.”
More than a Mother organises online courses for women that prepare them for part-time jobs and especially for stay-at-home mothers who have had similar experiences. It does not matter whether the women in question have had experience in their chosen fields before or not, since the idea is to help them build new skills. The courses include marketing, translation, Web-design and handmade crafts, and they are all designed for women who want to work from home. There are also courses in how to market handmade products.
The initiative offers courses that are taught by trainers who are mostly volunteers, and lectures are posted at certain times in the week. To make sure that an applicant takes the courses seriously they interview her by phone and monitor progress after each phase. “Some people take the courses for granted because they are free. But what they don’t understand is that they are taking the places of other people who really need the courses,” Al-Shimi said. Those who complete a course successfully are awarded a certificate.
Al-Shimi said that some 30 per cent of trainees are university graduates or have obtained a Masters degree or PhD. Some have worked for government organisations, and some are former engineers, doctors or media workers. “Some 30 per cent of those women we have trained now have jobs from home that they are successful in. But there are still some whose husbands refuse to let them work after taking the courses. Approximately 10 per cent of trainees are widows or divorcees – in some ways they are the most successful since they quickly learn what we teach them because they have the goal of supporting their families,” she said.
“In the past, our parents would tell us to keep gold jewelry at home in case of any financial problems, but I think that a mother with a job can keep a household safer,” she added.
“About 10 per cent of trainees are graduates who want to take crafts courses. However, we also have doctors who learn crafts – it all depends on the individuals concerned,” Al-Shimi said, adding that the overall number of beneficiaries has been around 3,000 so far. When their website is complete, they look forward to having more students.
The initiative also provides some job opportunities after the training courses end. “I didn’t want other people to go through what I went through. So, we started to make arrangements with platforms like Al-Hareefa to help mothers find jobs after their training courses end,” Al-Shimi said.
Examples of such jobs range from freelancers or low-income jobs for the experience or even volunteering opportunities. “A link to this site will be on our page for mothers to look at,” she said, adding that they are currently working with more such platforms. The companies that offer the jobs are from Egypt and other countries in the Arab world, many of which prefer to hire Egyptian women because of their creativity.
“We do our best to provide mothers with job opportunities by recommending them to companies, and then it is up to them to prove that they are competent in the field,” she said.
This task is not always without barriers, however.
“We have had trouble convincing companies to hire people to work limited hours or to hire freelancers. Some of our trainees are not always punctual, but this problem is starting to decrease. Some of the educational websites require money to access the material for an average cost of LE15,000 to LE20,000 per year, so we are currently looking for sponsors as well,” she added.
“We need all our former trainees to find jobs, especially jobs that end by 2pm. I would like to see a law introduced to enable mothers to work part-time. We want a sponsor for the initiative and to be able to reach other governorates that have no Internet access. We also want to buy advanced training material for trainers and have that available on the website.”
“We wish that we could give the people working for the initiative salaries. If this happens, the work would undoubtedly improve in quality. We plan to teach between 20,000 and 30,000 trainees per year, and we also want to target girls who are the mothers of the future so that they do not go through the ordeals of the generations before them. We aim to find a permanent headquarters for our initiative, including a studio to video our educational materials in,” Al-Shimi commented.
“If a mother is successful and happy, this has a positive effect on her family. And it could also be a source of inspiration for her children, who will also become successful in the future,” she concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly