Social Issues

Female led restaurant breaks gender barriers in conservative Gaza

By Saud Abu Ramadán

Gaza, Sep 24 (EFE).- When Palestinian chef Amna Hayek was prohibited to run a restaurant in the conservative Gaza Strip simply for being a woman, she decided to reciprocate the rejection she had experienced by opening a restaurant exclusively led and for women.

Sabaya VIP, which means women in Arabic, seeks to provide an alternative dining experience for Gaza’s women, who are often excluded from men-only venues and are looking for a safe and private space of their own.

The restaurant, decorated with a variety of plants and flowers, is already showing signs of success, with a steady stream of female customers since its opening in early September.

“Sabaya is sending a message to the world that women can also start something and succeed without the supervision of men,” Hayek tells Efe.

The first thing you see when entering the tinted door of the restaurant is a sign reading “Sabaya VIP, a respite for women” and a note indicating that men are not allowed in the venue.

“We live in a patriarchal society that does not allow women to be in charge of male cooks,” she says, describing life in Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas and where religion, tradition and conservatism are present in almost every aspect of society, especially for women.

Under the Hamas rule, women are obliged to wear hijabs and are not allowed to travel overseas, among other restrictions.

Tired of repeatedly running up against gender barriers, Hayek came up with the idea of Sabaya with Riham Hammouda, the restaurant’s owner.

“We employ eight women, plus a few more who prepare food from home and we provide them with an income to support their families,” Hammouda says, adding that the unemployment rate in the Strip is around 50%.

The restaurant owner adds that all of Sabaya’s employees are university graduates, which demonstrates the difficulty young Gazan professionals face in finding jobs linked to their studies.

The situation in the enclave is further exacerbated by the economic and humanitarian crisis due to the blockade by Israel and Egypt and the ongoing conflict.

“We were looking forward to its opening and we enjoyed the fact that we could come here without being stopped. It’s for women only and no one can tell us anything here,” says Abeer, a client of the restaurant.

Unfortunately, the sense of freedom and empowerment Sabaya offers has been tainted with criticism by conservatives who claim the restaurant is a deviation from traditional values and negative rumors have already spread about the project.

But Hayek and Hammouda are not discouraged. The criticisms are just one of the many barriers they are determined to overcome with their venture. EFE


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