CARE's Regional Applied Economic Empowerment Hub in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region uses evidence from the ground,...
A Pound Is Better Than a Groom
A Pound Is Better Than a Groom
Sherihan is 24 years old and lives in the village of Abou Awad with her mother, father and four siblings. Sherihan graduated from a technical secondary school, but all of her siblings are students at different academic levels, and because of this, there are many expenses. Her father is a wage-worker on a farm in Hurghada, and the family doesn’t have a stable source of income. To help her family, Sherihan tried unsuccessfully to find a job in the public sector. Then she started to dream of starting a private business, but she didn’t know how to start or where to begin. When Sherihan heard of CARE’s village savings and loan (VSLA) project called “Raise,” she decided to participate, along with her mother. She has become very committed to attending the sessions and investing small amounts of money.
One day, when Sherihan was visiting her father in Hurghada, she saw a steam ironing shop. Curious, she stopped to ask the shop owner many questions: What was the price of the steam iron? How does it work? Is the business profitable or not?
After returning to her small village, Sherihan proposed to her VSLA colleagues that they open a steam ironing shop. The idea of the business was new, since no such shop existed in her village or in nearby villages. According to the plan, she would start the business in her house and get the capital from the savings fund, which she had been paying into at every meeting. Sherihan took out a loan of 1,100 Egyptian pounds ($137) and bought the most essential asset for her business: a steam iron.
At first, her customers were limited to her neighbors, family and friends. As time went by, though, Sherihan started expanding her business to include nearby villages, and people everywhere began to hear about her service. Many people were curious about the girl who dared to work in such a male-dominated profession. The cultural norm of the area is that only men can run businesses, while women traditionally only iron for their families at home. Some people talked negatively about her and told her, “You’re a tomboy,” or, “This is a man’s job,” and stared at her in public.
Sherihan closed her business, saying she didn’t have enough courage to face the people who stared and muttered about her.
Fortunately, at the same time, CARE’s Banking on Change project began to implement social empowerment trainings to provide psychological support to women. When Sherihan attended these trainings, she learned how to be self-confident, to continue her project and to be persistent in achieving the goals that she set for herself.
This was a turning point in Sherihan’s life. She made the critical decision to reopen her business, and soon she had so many clients, she was able to increase her shares in the saving group. She contributed a great deal to her family’s income and began to buy things for herself so as to be ready for marriage.
After working for a while, Sherihan faced another big challenge: A suitor proposed to her and asked her to close her business and become a housewife. Her suitor believed that a woman’s natural and proper role was to be a housewife, taking care of her spouse and children. However, getting married was not Sherihan’s only wish. She had a bigger dream, especially after her business began to succeed and she started to feel more independent.
Therefore, she decided that “a pound is better than a groom,” and she rejected the man’s proposal in order to keep her successful business running. If someone wants to marry her, she realized, he has to accept her profession and give her support – not shame.
Now, Sherihan has even bigger ambitions. She wants to buy bigger, more advanced equipment so she can expand her business to include dry cleaning along with ironing.
“If I hadn’t participated in the savings group, saved a good amount of money on which I can depend on, and taken part in the social empowerment trainings that have enabled me to continue my project, my family and I would have never lived such a decent life,” Sherihan said. This life-changing experience not only taught me how to save, plan and manage my business, but it has also taught me how to negotiate with people, persuade them never to give up and to challenge all the difficulties that might come up throughout their journey.
“Now I feel safe,” she said, “because I have my own money in my hand.”