In South Lebanon, Maryam Dhaini is committed to turn NESWA into a successful and competitive women agri-food line

Date: Friday, February 21, 2020

Maryam Dhaini at the Cooperative's kitchen, Tuesday 7 January 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Houda Farfour/ Lebanon Family Planning Association for Development & Family Empowerment

Maryam Dhaini lives in South Lebanon, a Governorate in need of more jobs, especially for women, and where the unemployment rate is 5 per cent (according to Lebanon’s National Investment Promotion Agency). At 34, this mother and social sciences student has earned more independence after joining her village’s women cooperative, supported by the Lebanon Family Planning Association for Development & Family Empowerment, a UN Women Fund for Gender Equality grantee.

I live in Janata, a village in Tyr district, South Lebanon, I have two children, a 7-year old daughter and a 5-year-old son. I am in my third year of social sciences at the Lebanese University in Saida, and I used to earn money by filling-out surveys on smoking, the educational system, immigration and other topics and giving private lessons teaching the school curriculum. My husband does not oppose the idea of my work outside the home, but sometimes, I must persuade him. Like many men in the region, he would rather keep his wife home, as possible”, says Maryam Dhaini.

Some women in Maryam’s village, who had attended trainings provided by the Lebanon Family Planning Association for Development & Family Empowerment (LFPADE) - a local NGO - talked to her about the prospect of establishing an agri-food cooperative, supported by UN Women. Maryam felt motivated by the proposed activities, so she joined the Neswa initiative offering a comprehensive training package and on-line business coaching in the establishment and management of such a cooperative; business processes; and good manufacturing practices, per ISO standards.

The theoretical exercises and practical trainings were complemented with production and marketing sessions employing social innovation tools to create a market niche for their products. An agri-food line, Neswa (which translates to “women” in Arabic), emerged from the cooperative and the products soon carried this label.

Working together for the establishment of Neswa has strengthened the relationship of women coming from the villages of Janata, Al-Himyari, Yanouh and Abbasiyeh, through fostering collective action. “I look forward to seeing more women joining Neswa and becoming role models in their societies”, says Maryam.

The women have a business plan for the cooperative and are working to develop innovative new ideas to market their products.

Maryam says “Thanks to NESWA model, I improved my household’s income and learned how opening up to new ideas would become a valuable opportunity to discover oneself. Last year, for example, we participated in the Beirut Marathon, which hosted rural women for the first-time in the run to “draw your path”.

She adds “I consider myself today to be a small-scale businesswoman, yet also an active entrepreneur. My personal experience and others’ experiences prove that a woman’s financial independence gives her further freedom and power to take decisions in her household and next in her community. This independence affects children positively, they show higher ambitions, especially girls.”

Working in the cooperative has also helped Maryam to increase her self-esteem. She says “I tell women who have not dared to try new experiences like mine, that hesitation and fear will prevent them from discovering themselves. Our society might not be completely male-dominated, but it still does not believe in women’s abilities, especially those of rural women”.