In Egypt, there are 12 million female breadwinners, according to the National Centre for Social and Criminological Research.
These breadwinners include widows and divorced women, wives of patients with incurable diseases, wives of incapacitated husbands, wives of prisoners, or abandoned wives.
In Egypt it is often said, “women represent one half of society. In actuality, female breadwinners proved that women are not half of society, but can be the whole society, as 30% of women in Egypt carry, alone, all the financial burdens of their families.
Daily News Egypt went in depth to find what kind of problems such women face, discussing their dreams, the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), initiatives, and the government to support and encourage these women.
Female breadwinners face economic problems
The most common problems that female breadwinners face are financial ones, the subject on which Rasha Yousef started to narrate her story.
Yousef told Daily News Egypt that she is 36 years old, working as a teacher in a kindergarten. She has a 10-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.
She continued that she got divorced 10 years ago; she suffered a lot to take her alimony.
Yousef pointed out that her husband gives her only EGP 120 alimony every month, which is a very low income to support two children.
She continued that she is the one responsible for all the demands of the house.
She said that her total income is EGP 1,120, of which she receives just EGP 120 alimony, EGP 400 is her father’s pension, and her salary from the kindergarten is EGP 600.
Yousef stressed that despite of all these economic challenges, she has never asked anyone to give her money and she has never told anyone that she is suffering.
She said that her hope is that her daughter and son do not have to ever depend on anyone except themselves.
Meanwhile, Samia Fahmy’s husband died 20 years ago. Also a breadwinner, she told Daily News Egypt that she is living in the governorate of Beheira, working as a farmer with a daily wage.
She added that she has four married daughters and a son who is still a student in college.
Fahmy complained of a low income, explaining that her daily wage ranges between EGP 40 and EGP 50. She noted that she works according to the seasons, while her fixed income is EGP 700, which is her husband’s pension.
She called on the government to pay attention to the issue of female breadwinners, saying that they really suffer a lot.
She said that her only dream is to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.
Female breadwinners suffer from societal constraints
When women get divorced, become widowed, or even when their husbands travel abroad, their communities often appoint themselves as a judge to evaluate all their actions and sentence them to “death while living,” in the words of a female breadwinner, who preferred to remain anonymous, concerning the state of her life.
She is 40 years old, has twins, and works as a nurse, the drawback of that profession being that she returns home at a late hour every day.
She explained that she suffers a lot from her neighbours in the way they look at her and that her neighbour tried more than once to have pursue sexual relations with her, but she refused, pointing out that she was surprised by his response that she is already divorced, “so why not?”
On the other hand, she said that her friends have begun to move away from her as they became jealous for their husbands from her, just because she is a divorced woman—afraid of her trying to take their husbands from them.
“The only solution for me was to stay with my mother and father, but I was surprised that even my mother and father refused my actions and they always saw that I am the one who is wrong, as I did not obey my husband, and failed to maintain my family!” she said.
“Female breadwinners face many challenges, but they overcome them with community support, but when the community support disappears, it really hurts,” she stressed.
Divorcee breadwinners demand amendments in personal status law
Breadwinners not only face economical and societal challenges, but they also face many legal problems, especially if they are divorcees.
In this context, Nasrin Soliman, who is a divorced breadwinner, works as a legal researcher at the Ministry of Justice, and presenter on the Al Hayat channel, said that she filed a divorce case after 20 years of marriage and she won it.
She summed up the legal problems that women face after divorce in that they do not get their alimony quickly; it takes two to three years to receive it.
She asked if a woman does not work, how can she fulfil the financial demands of her children and her house?
Soliman also noted that the alimony’s value is decided by the judge according to the financial conditions of the husband. She explained that this gives room for the husband to fabricate the documents that prove his financial conditions, thus the judge could not decide on the fair alimony value.
For all these reasons, she demands some changes in the personal status law, in order to facilitate and ensure that women receive the alimony value that they deserve.
Government support for female breadwinners
Yousef El Wardany, assistant minister of youth and sports, told Daily News Egypt that the government tries to support women in general, and breadwinners in particular, through helping them to establish small and medium enterprises.
He also noted that the government tries to support female breadwinners through the Tahya Misr card, which was established by Tahya Misr Fund in cooperation with Nasser Social Bank with the aim of supporting female breadwinners.
He said that the poverty rate among female breadwinners is 23.6%, revealing that the Egyptian government aims to reduce this percentage to 12% by 2020 and zero by 2030.
El Wardany announced that the Ministry of Youth will host meetings with all the initiatives and the NGOs that support female breadwinners in order to coordinate the government’s efforts with the civil organisations’ efforts.
Society’s role in supporting female breadwinners
Society represents the most important supporter for breadwinners. All of society should join forces only to support these women.
All these interviews came on the sidelines of the celebration of breadwinners’ day, which was organised by the Bedaya Gededa (New Beginning) organisation, which aims to support women who are divorced and breadwinners.
Many businesswomen and NGOs attended the event and left their contacts for the breadwinners to reach them, offering ways that they can help them.
The event included honouring many breadwinner women in Egypt, and honouring some of the public figures that are interested in women’s rights in general, and female breadwinners’ specifically.
Naglaa Ayyad, the founder of Bedaya Gededa, told Daily News Egypt that the celebration of a day for female breadwinners is the first of its kind in the Middle East.
She explained that she thought about this initiative as she realised that the women, after becoming breadwinners, face many challenges and the role of society is to help them, not to reject them.
Ayyad continued that she does not work alone on this initiative, but she has alongside her many volunteers, including doctors, lawyers, businesspersons, and youth who volunteer to provide their services, free of charge, to support female breadwinners.
She explained, for example, that doctors provide female breadwinners with free treatment, the youth give the children of breadwinners educational classes, businesspersons and women try to provide breadwinners with fixed jobs.
Ayyad said that, in summary, through this initiative, they provide the psychological, financial, and legal support for them.