Empowering Libyan women to make a living and put food on the table


This story was originally published on UN Women's regional website for the Arab States and North Africa

Libyan women in Ajdabiya participating in a tailoring course. Photo: Courtesy of Asarya

“I was in a bad situation when I heard about the Tamkeen project. I had been trying to think of ways to help my husband financially,” said Hana* who participated in a professional cooking course to start her own business. “I was hoping desperately to take part in the training. I wanted to prove that I can rely on myself to start our lives again.

Along with 194 women from Ajdabiya, Hana* participated in Tamkeen, a two-month vocational training aimed at meeting the immediate food needs of vulnerable women, support their skills development and create job opportunities for them so they can become self-sufficient. The programme is jointly implemented by UN Women, the World Food Programme (WFP), and local partner Asarya, with generous support from the Government of Japan.

Ajdabiya is the capital of the Al Wahat District in North-Eastern Libya, some 150 kilometers south of Benghazi. The city suffers from high unemployment and food insecurity rates due to economic instability and lack of skilled workers.

An assessment of the local labour market was conducted by WFP and its local partner Asarya. This included interviews with business owners, local authorities, consumers and with the trainees themselves. Based on their feedback, the capacity building programme was designed to include courses on photography, cooking, baking, hairdressing and tailoring. One hundred and fifty of the trainees attended additional trainings on the basics of running a business.  

“I’ve always dreamed of having my own clothing brand. It has been a passion since I was young. When the Tamkeen project post popped up on my Facebook page, I felt like my dream could finally come true,” said Sumaya* who took the tailoring classes.  “I’m grateful to be trained by experts who taught me exactly how to design and sew clothes. I also learned how to kick-start and manage my own business in the future.”

To enhance collaboration and solidarity between the trainees, the project introduced them to the concept of “Savings Group”. This micro-financing model is comprised of a group of individuals who make savings together so that they can take small loans from these joint savings to start a business.

“Through Tamkeen I met many women who have the same dream as me and have the same passion for designing clothes and starting their own business so we are planning now to start a business together,” said Sumaya.  

The trainees also engaged in constructive discussions and learnt about what it means to be self-employed and the importance of being financially independent.

“We are happy to partner with UN Women and be in a position to inspire and empower women," said Rawad Halabi, World Food Programme Libya Country Representative. "These skills will enable them to become economically independent, resilient, and will give them decision-making powers at home and beyond."  

“I’ve always thought I needed the right equipment and the most expensive camera to be a professional photographer until I got into the photography course in Ajdabiya,” said Heba* who had wanted to be a photographer since she was a child. “Now, I know that photography is not about equipment but it’s about passion, talent and practice. I can’t wait to put my new skills to work!”

Two young women participate in a photography training. Photo: Courtesy of Asarya.

“Economic empowerment of women is not only about supporting them to become financially independent,” said Begoña Lasagabaster, UN Women Representative in Libya and Tunisia. “Their economic empowerment translates into better living conditions for themselves, their families and community at large. It is also vital for their country’s economic development and prosperity.”

By the end of the training, participants from the cooking courses were already sharing photos and information about the products they had been selling. Many savings groups have been formed to support each other. The participants in the photography course have split into three groups and are working on joint photography projects.  

“I used to talk with my friends and family about how one day I would be a make-up artist in Ajdabya. They all thought that I was only dreaming until I heard about Tamkeen,” said Rama*.  I now know that nothing is impossible, and everything can come true with passion. I’m starting small but I’m definitely going to be one of the biggest makeup artists in Ajdabya.”

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the participants.