Breaking discriminatory practices in Palestine through environmental sustainability
Author: Reem Akl
Cairo, Egypt -- Rawan Rajab is a 22-year-old Palestinian woman from Kafr Al Libad village, located in Tulkarem Governorate in the West Bank of Palestine, who is making a significant impact in her community through her environmentally conscious business “Blue Stone”. Her passion for the environment and her desire to make a positive impact led her to start her own recycling glass workshop, turning used glass into eco-friendly stones.
Rawan's passion for environmental sustainability is not only limited to her small business, but she also actively participates in civil society-led initiatives with women in her community and has now become a strong advocate for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. Rawan came to know about the UN Women joint programme on Promoting Productive Employment and Decent Work for Women in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine through an awareness and advocacy campaign in January 2022, which included community-based awareness dialogues, led by young women and men, including Rawan, and was organized by The Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development on young women’s participation in non-traditional sectors.
Through the campaign, 87,332 people, of which close to half are women, from a wide range of community members, young women and men, were reached and acquired knowledge and information on gender roles and equal access to economic opportunities. During one of the dialogues, Rawan and her community members realized that she is leading a very important entrepreneurial initiative, especially when she engaged in these dialogues with both women and men. Rawan listened to the community’s thoughts and attitudes, and this has affected both their perceptions about her business and important participation in her community. Since then, Rawan started to think differently about her work and business.
Rawan's journey as a woman entrepreneur and business owner began in 2020, “During the pandemic, and as the world began to shift to digital platforms, I started enrolling in online courses around business management and entrepreneurship,” Rawan recalled. “At the same time, and as a result of the quarantine, the impact of human behaviour on our planet was also apparent, this was becoming a very common narrative,” explained Rawan. “That’s how I got the initial idea to do something that would help the environment.”
Rawan remembered a story from her brother’s childhood, and how he once got injured in his foot by a broken glass while playing on the street. This prompted her to delve into the field of glass recycling and stone-making.
To turn her dream into a reality, Rawan faced numerous challenges, including financial constraints and discriminatory social norms. This didn’t stop her, and with a small funding she received from an international organization, she started her own recycling glass workshop located just 50 metres from her home. The workshop is transforming used glass into eco-friendly stones, a process that not only reduces the carbon footprint but also creates a sustainable source for construction materials.
Her workshop employs a team of four: Rawan, her father, her brother and a social media manager, who were trained by Rawan on the process of recycling and stone-making, therefore creating job opportunities for her community.
Although Rawan’s family has been supportive of her career and business, being a female business owner, she faced resistance and criticism from men in her community, questioning her capabilities and skillset. While initially it was challenging to establish herself in the market and gain credibility, the knowledge Rawan gained through the joint programme around gender equality and occupational segregation, often by gender, which can drive inequalities, helped her stay committed to her goal.
Rawan became more conscious and aware of the role of other women within her village, particularly those who work in non-traditional labours. Accordingly, Rawan initiated a glass-sorting initiative, working with both women and men in her village and aiming to increase awareness and equal participation in recycling efforts.
As a result, she was able to raise awareness and promote sustainable practices within her community, which resulted in more women contributing and participating in the initiative by donating used glass to Rawan’s workshop. There are now 10 glass-sorting centres in Kafr Al Libad established by the initiative, which are helping reduce the environmental impact caused by disposal of glass waste.
Through her business, Rawan has achieved great outreach and awareness raising, which ultimately led to her participation in COP27, 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. She also managed to recycle three tonnes of glass in 2022 alone.
Her business serves as a model for sustainable development and motivates women and men in her community to contribute to the sustainability and advancement of the environment and community. By providing training and awareness-raising initiatives, she hopes to break stereotypical perceptions of occupational segregation and inspire more women to become leaders within the field of sustainable development and transform their communities.
The joint programme on Promoting Productive Employment and Decent Work for Women in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, implemented by UN Women and the International Labour Organization, is made possible with the funding support from the Government of Sweden.
Lemonia Fokaidou, Hadil Naser, Musa Khalil, Mandy Sahliya contributed to this article.