Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine—Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF)

Client: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Duration: 2015-2021

Region: Middle East and North Africa

Country: Egypt, Jordan, Palestine

Solutions: Economic Growth

The Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF) focuses on market-system change and women’s economic empowerment in Egypt, Jordan, and until March 2018, the Occupied Palestinian Territories. AWEF developed an innovative and path-breaking approach to market systems to encourage the adoption of new practices and approaches to empower women.

Women in the Middle East have untapped potential, they have the interest, skills, and ability to play a significantly more active role in the economy. It is only through long-term inclusion of women that these countries will be able to witness sustainable growth, security, and stability. AWEF changes the way markets work by tackling critical underlying constraints that limit whether and how women participate in markets.

AWEF focuses on catalysing change in the ready-made garments, citrus, public awareness, financial inclusion, dairy, market linkages, local government, and ICT/flexible work strategic areas, reaching 578,241 women through its interventions. More than 1,140 market actors and institutions have adopted AWEF-supported practices and 54 market actors and institutions have demonstrated commitment to reform rules or internal policies that enabled and empowered women. AWEF has helped to directly or indirectly facilitate 2,231 market linkages across Jordan, Egypt, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, generating increased income opportunities for women.

AWEF has generated additional income for 30,725 women and aggregated net additional income generated for poor women across Egypt and Jordan amounting to £4,630,204.

Since 2020, 116,169 women have benefited from increased productivity and/or skills. AWEF is a unique programme in that it works to jointly improve women’s access to opportunities but also empowers them to take hold of these opportunities by supporting their agency—their voice, choice, and decision making in economic spaces. AWEF interventions have helped to strengthen voice, choice, and control for 75,107 women.

Read more about women’s economic empowerment on AWEF’s learning hub.

Sample Activities

  • Support businesses to increase the focus on women’s working conditions, including gender-sensitive recruitment, human resource management, and training policies in Egypt’s food retail, citrus, and ready-made garment sectors.
  • Assist home-based female producers in Jordan’s dairy sector to raise awareness of the value of testing and certification of products to increase their competitiveness and value.
  • Work with government standards institutes, the private sector, and women producers of food products such as maftoul, cheese, and yoghurt to streamline certification processes and services and better enable women to move up the value chain.
  • Support introduction of fee-based, female paraveterinary services to make basic animal health care services more available locally, particularly to home-based production run by women.

Select Results

  • Worked with partners to expand the reach of digital financial services to women through networks of female agents in Egypt and Jordan, leading to more than 34,000 additional female e-wallet users.
  • Worked with digital financial service providers on financial literacy for women and adapting financial products to support women-owned microbusinesses. Following the success of the pilot, the partner worked to develop e-payment services to microfinance clients, reaching 100,027 women across Egypt. During COVID-19 restrictions on movement, these microbusinesses were able to continue making and receiving payments.
  • Influenced a formal change in the Palestinian Monetary Authority’s regulations on allowing banks to offer accounts for low-income earners. This change in position enables all low-income earners as well as those who are self-employed, to access banking services and accounts which dramatically expands their potential market and improves women’s ability to make decisions over their own finances.
  • Worked with municipalities in Jordan to introduce a platform within the municipality through which women have access to services that enable them to become more entrepreneurial and establish or formalise their businesses, such as training, information, networks, and linkages to potential markets.
  • Developed a suite of interventions supporting the growth of women-owned home-based businesses including establishing systems to generate market linkages between large retailers and women producers.
  • Influenced the development of guidelines on licensing of home-based businesses that was adopted by the Jordanian Ministry of Local Administration. Licensing processes were institutionalised and implemented across 17 municipalities and had a significant impact on women’s sense of agency and engagement in local government, as well as increasing their ability to generate incomes.
  • Worked with clothing factories in Egypt to develop and institutionalise gender-sensitive worker training to influence how businesses work with and perceive women in the workforce. We also engaged with major Egyptian retailers to increase the hiring of women.
  • Worked with partners to develop and test new recruitment processes for women in the readymade garment sector. These new approaches included running women-only job fairs, creating mixed-gender outreach teams as part of recruitment drives, and the adoption of gender-sensitive promotional materials. As a result of this intervention 4,028 women were reached through recruitment events and AWEF’s partner and lead firm, Arafa, established a reputation as a credible employer within targeted communities.
  • Helped change the mindset of large businesses to facilitate the reform of human resource practises and the introduction of technology to allow women to work from home more flexibly. Lessons learnt from this were subsequently deployed by the business to facilitate a smooth transition to working from home during COVID-19 restrictions in Jordan.
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