Crafting women’s empowerment

Amira Hisham, Tuesday 23 Apr 2024

Four university students have added to the initiatives supporting working women and focusing on traditional handicrafts and marketing.

Traditional handicrafts
Traditional handicrafts


Four senior university students in Cairo with a passion for handicrafts have launched their graduation project, “A Woman’s Craft,” which sheds light on the significance of traditional handicrafts and their impact on social development. 

It has also now turned into a campaign to support women working in this domain.

The four students, Zeina Hassan, Shahd Abdel-Meguid, Mariam Taha, and Shams Tarek, hope to use the project as a bridge between women artisans and enthusiasts of traditional crafts, promoting awareness of the latter’s cultural and economic importance while facilitating the marketing of artisanal products.

“Though we were uncertain about where to begin, our passion for handicrafts propelled us forward. Our journey commenced with a visit to the Siwa Oasis followed by Fayoum, North Sinai, and Cairo,” Hassan told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“We encountered challenges at first in communicating with women working in handicrafts in Siwa and North Sinai. We could only communicate with one woman who was showcasing her products in a small Siwa bazaar alongside her sister and under the sponsorship of their father,” she added.

“They were enthusiastic about our initiative, recognising its potential to provide village women with opportunities to market their crafts without needing to physically be present or leave their homes. They believe that this will significantly contribute to expanding their work,” Hassan noted.

“One young woman from Siwa, who preferred to remain anonymous, told us that women in the Oasis face challenges related to marketing. Typically confined to their homes, they rely on men to facilitate the sale of their crafts, and then see them charge sometimes exorbitant commissions.”

“This practice significantly impacts both the selling price of the items and the profits earned by the women. For instance, if an item is sold for LE1,000, the woman who made it might only receive LE200 after paying a hefty commission,” Hassan said.

“Women working in handicrafts, especially in conservative communities, are happy with our project because they receive full compensation for their creations without having to contend with such exorbitant commissions.”

In Siwa and North Sinai, women often hand embroider abayas (robes) and shawls. According to the Siwan handicrafts worker, their work is inspired by the natural surroundings, with a focus on colours such as green, yellow, and brown and representing the hues of palm trees, sand, and dates.

In the village of Tunis in Fayoum, already famous for its pottery production that is exported abroad, many working women aspire to greater independence and ownership of their crafts. Some dream of breaking away from day labour altogether and inscribing their names on the pieces they create. 

Sabah, one of the women, said “I am excited about this crafts initiative. It has made me dream of establishing my own workshop and exporting my creations worldwide. I want the world to know that the women of Fayoum created these pieces.”

In Cairo, Salma is excited about promoting her artisanal skincare products and is eagerly anticipating the upcoming jasmine season. A woman in her thirties, she crossed paths with the initiative’s members while showcasing her products at a local bazaar. 

She participated in a course in crafting skincare products from natural ingredients, which has now led her to establish her own brand, supported by the initiative.

“Jasmine oil is integral to many skincare products, and Egypt is among the largest exporters of jasmine oil in the Arab world. We are currently raising awareness about our jasmine and are eagerly awaiting the harvest season, expected around August,” Hassan said.

“Women price their products based on the materials used, their effort in making them, and the commission paid to marketers. Local residents seldom purchase from these women; instead, it’s tourists and visitors from outside the villages who make the purchases,” the initiative’s leaders said.

They are currently raising awareness about the talents, aspirations, and achievements of women craft workers through social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram. They also have future plans for marketing, including organising events at universities to educate students about the handicrafts and facilitate their marketing. 

They also aim to launch a website to promote online sales, especially among the younger generations who may not have the means to travel long distances to see the work of women in Siwa, North Sinai, and Fayoum.

The four young women’s journey, which started last October, is set to continue until the craftsmanship of Egyptian women gains recognition worldwide. It is a commitment that aligns with state initiatives to economically empower women and support those engaged in handicrafts.

At a recent event, the National Council for Women (NCW) registered the first traditional craft in Egypt to use a collective trademark in the form of the Sohag-made tulle-bi-telli fabric. A fashion show showcasing products made using this collective brand by women in Sohag in Upper Egypt was held to mark the occasion.

The Medium, Small, and Micro Enterprise Development Agency (MSMEDA) has also launched its Aziza Initiative to support women working in SMEs. This offers soft loans to women seeking to develop existing projects or establish new ones nationwide. Technical assistance, training, and marketing support are provided to ensure the sustainability and success of such ventures.

The Woman’s Craft project, the Aziza Initiative, and the registration of the first traditional craft are all steps aiming to empower women and foster economic independence. 

Spearheaded by the Long Live Egypt Fund in collaboration with the Nasser Social Bank, the Mastoura loan project, another initiative with a similar aim, focuses on supporting Egyptian women, particularly female breadwinners. 

They can receive financing to help buy production tools from the Mastoura project, enabling them to establish their own projects and secure a stable source of income to support their families.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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