Low Income Women Making a Living


Betrayal and Motherhood 

This is a story of heartache and joy, of life and death; it is the story of Amina Khalaf.

Amina comes from a family of moderate income. She got married 13 years ago to “the love of her life,” Said, a talented carpenter from her neighborhood.

A couple of months into marriage, Said’s economic conditions were not good, “He was in debt because of the marriage expenses. I did not ask for much, but he wanted things to be perfect for me.”

Finally, Said was offered a job in Upper Egypt where his skills were much needed. In order to minimize on expenses, Khalaf stayed behind, moving to live with her mother-in-law and his brother. “My mother-in-law was always jealous of me. She had the notion that I stole her son from her and charmed him with my beauty. She never accepted or liked me, but I had a separate room and I was fine with the arrangement as long as our dream to reunite would happen some day.”

Her husband was making a home for them in Upper Egypt, and promised everything would be settled in a couple of years. During that time, he could not visit and neither could she in order to save on expenses.

During her stay there, she was raped by her brother-in-law, with the knowledge of his mother. “I went to the police, reported the incident but my mother-in-law and her son denied it and said that I must have had sex outside and wanted to justify my sin.”

“I did not tell Said as I did not want to bother him while he was away. I was ashamed of myself so I kept quiet and moved back into my family’s one-bedroom apartment. Five months later, I was starting to show, and I did not know what to do, so I packed a bag and went to Said and told him the whole story. He said he believed me but would not touch me, not even when I pleaded to him.”

For him, the thought of his brother or anyone else touching her was too much to bare. Khalaf tried to have an abortion but she almost died in the process, and so she had to carry the baby to term. “I stayed there until after I gave birth and Said agreed to write the baby in his name and help out with the expenses, but did not want anything to do with me or the baby.”

I was not able to go back home as my brother-in-law was stalking me threatening to expose me to my family as a sinner, so I tried calling my husband, but to no avail, then went to look for him, but was told that he left the city.

“I felt devastated, and started moving around until I found myself in Cairo.” She worked at a hairdresser’s shop cleaning the place, then bit by bit, she became the best pedicurist there.

She now lives with her ten-year-old son and works all day to earn a living. Her family knows nothing about her, but from time to time, she calls her mother just to hear her voice then hangs up. “She knows it is me and she talks to me without having to hear my voice. She tells me about everything, and I listen to her without saying a word.”

“My son is old enough to ask questions that I do not have answers to. He asks, ‘why can’t we call our family for help. Even the poorest of the poor have families, where is ours?’”

For now, she avoids the question, trying to focus only on bringing him up as a well-established, well-mannered young man. “I just look at him and try not to see all the ugliness of his birth father, but sometimes it is just so hard to forget everything that I have been through, but then I remember the first time I saw him and all the special moments we have had together, having it be just the two of us made us grow closer.”

“I took the hard path of being a single mother. My only other choice was to abandon him somewhere, to be raised like all those parentless kids that have no hope of a real future… My choice was the harder one, but I would do it all over again, just to see him smile.”

-By Rana Kamaly

Raising Children after Divorce 

Thirty-seven year old Omm Rania cleans houses for a living. She was married to a house builder at the age of 20 and has two children. Carrying heavy material all day due to her husband’s nature of work, he injured his back, and after consulting several doctors, he ended up having back surgery and was advised not to carry anything heavy for at least two years.

Due to their circumstances, Omm Rania was obliged to be the breadwinner of the family, but even after the passing of the two years, her husband found any excuse not to go to work and stayed home, enjoying the fact that he got an allowance from his hard working wife.

Omm Rania earned just enough to get by each month in order to pay for her children’s education, clothes and needs as well as the household requirements and her husband’s needs.

With the passing of the years, tension broke out between Omm Rania and her husband, which resulted in her being verbally and physically abused by him. This lead to her giving up on the fact that he would ever provide for his family, and thought that since she is the one working and spending on the house, she might as well get divorced and not be subjected to abuse, nor obliged to feed an extra, ungrateful mouth.

A few years later, she decided to get married again to someone who would take responsibility and could take care of her and her children. Her second husband was not any better than the first, if not worse. He refused to share her children’s expenses and even did not allow them to live with her in their new home.

Not only did Omm Rania have to endure living away from her kids, he also did not accept renting an apartment near to where the kids stayed, but she still went to her job to take care of their expenses. Tired of the arrangement imposed on her by her new husband, she asked him again to help her with the money, or have the kids live with them, but he gave her two options: either she chooses him or her kids. Faced with such an ultimatum, Omm Rania opted for her children, ending up with another divorce and remaining as the family’s breadwinner.

-By Alia Moustafa

Vulnerable Women Projects in Egypt

During the course of my professional life, I was the Projects Coordinator of one the mutual development projects established by the German-Arab Chamber and the ILO. The project targeted 1,000 vulnerable women between the ages of 18 to 50 living in slums, of whom 60% were illiterate, 30% reached the preparatory stage, while 10% were university graduates. The project focused on the textile and handicraft industries.

ILO was keen to include 5% disabilities and it was important to enroll them because of their keenness to exert an effort for better living conditions. All the women in the project were enthusiastic to develop skills which would make them financially independent seeing as they were responsible for their household either because their husbands were unemployed, or because they were divorced or widowed. Even some of the single women were helping with family expenses.

Randa Farghalli, 36 years old, was employed in a sportswear factory. She said, “I did not have a life before, as I was dependent on my brother, but now I feel strong, and financially independent.” Actually, in a very short time, she proved herself and became a supervisor and now takes computer courses to better herself.

Om Ahmed, is a 50-year-old widow with four children; a son who finished technical education, but is not working, and three others in university and schools. “As I am illiterate, I was determined to exert more effort at work in order to allow my children to complete their education and have decent jobs.”

Soad el Sayed, 40 years old, with a husband out of work and three children; one of the daughters decided to join her mother in the project to support in the financial obligations. Soad said, “My husband forced me to go to work, as he needs money for his cigarettes and going to the coffee shop.”

University Graduates in the Project

10% of the univserity graduates were unable to find suitable work and opted to join the project.

Asmaa Abdel Aal, a 25-year-old, single woman who graduated from the Faculty of Commerce, said, “After I lost hope in finding a job suitable to my qualifications, and as I was in dire need of money to support my family, I decided to enroll in the project and work in a textile factory. This opportunity did not only develop my technical skills, but allowed me to share financial responsibilities with my father, plus saving for the future.”

Ola el Sayed is a 20-year-old, single woman and a student at the Faculty of Arts. “I joined the program because I am determined to continue my education and help support the family as I have three brothers and a father who is the only other breadwinner who works as a freelance carpenter with an unstable income.”

ILO’s Cooperative Project

The ILO played a major role in developing women’s skills and helped empower them to start working collectively in social and economic solidarity groups to better their income.

Not only are cooperative groups beneficial for the women in organizing their business, but also to share experiences and upgrade their knowledge. Moreover, women are able to sell their handicrafts either individually or in joint exhibitions.

“I was motivated to join the handicrafts cooperative because of the training and the regular income I am getting,” said Sayeda Saad, a 26-year-old from Kum Umbu, Aswan Governorate.

Amal Moussa, 30 years old, says, “We used to earn 300 pounds a month, now we make up to 1,000 in two days at an exhibition, due to having direct access to the market.”

“At the beginning, we were afraid of leaving our villages, but now we feel free to sell our products in the cities,” said Sekina Saad, 40 years old, and leader of a solidarity group. “I meet new people and am now known by my clients,” mentioned Afef Hassan, 39 years old.

Sekina, a divorced woman, said,“I have to make my own living as I am also taking care of my mother. I have been working in handicrafts for the last ten years, and because of my experience, I improved the quality of our products, and that is why I was selected to be a leader of a group in Kum Umbu. We are 50 to 60 members from different villages in Aswan and are producing a variety of products and have also introduced new designs such as beaded jewelry.”

Haneya Mohammed, 30 years old, completed her secondary education and is taking care of her siblings and mother. Since 2004, she has been selling handicrafts from home to traders where she received a small payment for the work she did. However, when she joined the group, her income considerably increased since she is not producing for others anymore, plus she is enjoying a social life with her colleagues. She says she feels free to create her own products and to travel to the city by herself to sell them.

Shadya Taha, 34 years old, and one of the leaders in Aswan, has a secondary certificate and completed two years of computer study. Taha is married with two children and has been working in handicrafts for many years. She used to purchase raw materials and produce at home, then sell her products at different stores in Aswan. She mentioned, “After joining the group conditions became much better.”

These women, who started off with the pressure of having to provide for their families, were privileged to turn their lives around by enrolling in such projects.

– By Rehab Saad