In the surreal landscape of Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, you'll see the Bedouin (traditionally nomadic desert tribe) men working in the desert camps ferrying visitors across the sands. So prominent is the male population here that one question commonly recurs — where are the women?
Even with hordes of tourists flocking to the desert each year, the surrounding villages remain one of the developing regions of Jordan. Established in 2010 to tackle the issues of unemployment and low socioeconomic status, Disi Women's Association works to empower Bedouin women by helping them develop across all areas of their lives and increase the contribution of women in their community.
“The biggest suffering faced by Bedouin women is the lack of employment opportunities as we live far away from the city centre of Aqaba [the nearby port town]. Many women were denied the opportunity to work because of the fear of parents on their daughters,” says Association Director Qutnah Alhwetat.
Despite the complex intricacies of how religious mindsets, lack of education, family circumstances, low wages and remoteness have blended together to traditionally prevent women here from making a living, the association is creating a new norm in which they’re actively involved in building a future for themselves and their families.
Integral to its mission is the establishment of a fund for education loans to help women secure employment or start a business and qualifying them to work on income-generating activities across different sectors, including local tourism.
CeraDisi is one of the cooperative’s projects that has provided ten local women with a job teaching ceramics workshops, with another of their projects employing local women to run immersive Bedouin experiences for tourists such as traditional cooking classes and storytelling sessions.
When asked how exactly the association works with local women, instead of rattling off logistics Qutnah responds with the quintessential Bedouin values that define this pocket of the country. “We work with respect, love and strong friendship. We have become one family sharing all joys and worries together.”