Featured image via AP (Photograph by: Nariman El-Mofty)
It is no secret that women empowerment has reached epidemic proportions in the Middle East recently. Little by little, women of all social classes will eventually practice all the rights that they genuinely deserve. The most recent motivating story that we came across is that of a group of Bedouin women who are starting to lead the Sinai Trail.
For those who don’t know, what is the Sinai Trail? According to their website, the Sinai Trail is Egypt’s first long-distance hiking trail. It started as a 220km route that ran from the Gulf of Aqaba to the top of Egypt’s highest mountain, Mount Catherine. It took 12 days to complete thanks to the strenuous efforts of three Bedouin tribes. Even though such a project would have been satisfactory at that stage, the Bedouins still strode on to seize every prospect with the help of other tribes to maximise Sinai’s exposure and create opportunities for the locals. Currently, the Sinai Trail is a 550km path, taking 54 days to complete, involving eight tribes: the Tarabin, Muzeina, Jebeleya, Awlad Said, Gararsha, Sowalha, Hamada, and Alegat.
This Egyptian trail was always led and guided by men. Why? Well to Al Arabiya, Bedouin women almost never work outside the home and even more rarely do they interact with outsiders. Ben Hoffler, the British co-founder of the Sinai Trail stated: “How can we be credible calling this the ‘Sinai Trail’ if the women aren’t involved?” His years of countless attempts were to no avail, as almost all the tribes rejected the concept of female guides.
But as we know, “Good things come to those who wait”. Eventually, one of the smallest and poorest tribes, the Hamada, agreed to the idea; however, they had some stipulations. Firstly, tourists can only be women, and the tours can’t go overnight. Secondly, the group must return to the Hamada’s home village, Wadi Sahu, every day before sunset. Finally, the organisers urge the tourists to photograph the guides only when they are wearing a full veil over the face that covers even the eyes with mesh. Of course some of you might view this as a rather minimal step forward; nevertheless, every small rock, or even pebble, placed in the right direction builds a solid pathway to prosperity.
So who are our heroines in this story? Umm Yasser, Umm Soliman, Aicha, and Selima are the inspiring role models and guides that lead the tour. Umm Yasser, 47 years old, was the first one to take the initiative and also to persuade the families of the other three women so they could join her. “It is against our culture, but women need jobs,” she said. “People will make fun of us, but I don’t care. I’m a strong woman.” Despite her speculation that other Bedouin women will not join her on her path to assist their community, she strongly believes that there is no shame in women working. Her perseverance must be rubbing off, as an elderly man from the Alegat tribe shared his views that were quite similar to those of Umm Yasser’s.
In a recent tour joined by the Associated Press, our four protagonists led 16 female tourists from Korea, New Zealand, Europe, Lebanon, and Egypt through the picturesque areas of Wadi Sahu. Marion Salwegter, a 68-year-old Dutch woman who travels alone to southern Sinai every year, stated, “I think south Sinai is safe especially when you are in the care of Bedouins. This is where I feel at home. Every corner there is scenery and another beautiful view.”
We truly hope that one day all Bedouin women will get a chance to work and help their families.