SWINDON, United Kingdom — The Bedouin community includes multiple Arab nomadic tribes who have existed for centuries across the regions of North Africa and the Arab peninsula. Their rich culture emphasizes the importance of hospitality, music and storytelling.
However, for the Bedouin women of Jordan, their reality starkly contrasts this idyllic nomadic lifestyle as they suffer continuous displacement and financial insecurity. To improve their economic agency and financial independence, an intersection has emerged between local traditional crafts and e-commerce platforms to boost cash flow and financial independence for the women.
In Jordan, tribal (or Bedouin) laws co-exist with Sharia law (civil law–the formal legal system). The two main dimensions of tribal law involve matters of bloodshed and women’s issues. While tribal law is notably more flexible when it comes to finding solutions to conflicts, both Sharia and tribal law are inherently patriarchal and disadvantage women. One example of this is Inheritance law. Sharia law states that daughters will usually receive less than sons. Tribal law, however, results in daughters inheriting almost nothing and renouncing their inheritance rights at a Sharia court. While it is important to note Jordan is home to many different Bedouin tribes, whose laws and social norms will differ, gender relationships in Jordan mirror patriarchal values, and men are predominantly in control of household and social issues.
The result of these patriarchal laws for the Bedouin women of Jordan is significant gender disparity in income. Women are more financially insecure and vulnerable than their male counterparts and lack economic agency; gross national income stood at $13,668 for men and just $2,734 for women in 2018. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated this vulnerability and these cultural barriers to economic participation have resulted in women lacking the required skills to find employment. This reduces their income and financial security, making them more susceptible to poverty.
Local Crafts as a Tool for Financial Independence
To improve Bedouin women’s economic agency in Jordan, grassroots projects have identified the potential of selling local traditional crafts as a tool for poverty alleviation when coupled with e-commerce sites. Selling local crafts online can help remove the financial barriers imposed on Bedouin women of Jordan. These barriers have occurred through the adherence to Bedouin social norms, which emphasize women’s role in domestic spaces. As a result, many Bedouin women are illiterate, with hardly, if any, access to education. Consequently, Bedouin women in Jordan become dependent on men as sole income earners for the household.
Access to an online market equips women with a platform to sell their traditional hand-crafted goods, allowing them to generate independent cash flows while using their expertise to alleviate themselves from poverty. Not only does this boost their economic agency but also empowers these women to support themselves without reliance on their male counterparts for money or dependency on aid agencies.
Two examples of such projects which have harnessed the potential of the sale of local crafts are the Badia Fund and the Faynan Heritage Women’s Cultural Association.
The Badia Fund
The Badia Fund for Livelihood Development began with a $33.3 million grant from the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility. Implemented by the Jordanian government, the Fund is empowering Bedouin women in the Badia desert region of Jordan, home to many Bedouin herders and breeders. The Fund offers training and monetary support for women in the community, enabling them to develop business and craft skills. In turn, this can lead to a new source of income for these women and their families, and a renewed sense of financial freedom for them.
For Hamda Abu Tayeh, who resides in a small Bedouin village, the Badia Fund facilitated the development of her own business which employs women from the community to make traditional crafts at home. Hamda received approximately $19,000 from the Badia Fund, and her business allowed 10 women who had never finished school to begin to earn independent incomes.
Faynan Heritage Women’s Cultural Association
In Southern Jordan, an archaeologist from the U.K. University of Reading, who partnered up with a faculty member from Jordan’s University of Petra and two members of the Jordanian nonprofit Future Pioneers for Empowering Communities, implemented a similar project in 2022. Together, they secured funding to establish a local business for Bedouin women to manage, make and sell traditional crafts based on Mithen’s archaeological finds. In this way, Mithin’s academic work was contributing to a process for these women to pull themselves out of poverty.
Mithin’s team created the intertribal Faynan Heritage Women’s Cultural Association, whose members received intensive training to develop skills in product design, marketing and production of traditional jewelry, pottery and other hand-made products. They subsequently opened the Faynan Heritage Home, an online and physical shop for their products. The income that the sale of these goods via this platform generated went toward poverty alleviation and contributed directly to household incomes in the community. Even small economic increases are believed to have had significant impacts on the well-being of these households.
Impact of Selling Local Traditional Crafts
While the economic results of these projects are still being measured, and are delayed due to the impact of COVID-19, these creative, grassroots projects that recognize the potential of selling local crafts are a powerful tool for poverty alleviation and female empowerment. By providing the Bedouin women of Jordan with an opportunity to generate an independent income, these projects have facilitated greater economic agency for them. Economic agency is a critical step to creating sustainable and effective poverty reduction and reduces the risk of dependence on loans and aid money. By funneling this aid into grassroots projects, the Bedouin women of Jordan can continue these businesses after the initial injection of monetary assistance, and pass these business, design and marketing skills onto future generations.
– Ariana Mortazavi