Sewing Success: UN Joint Programme 'Rabeha' empowers Women-Led Businesses in Egypt's Handicrafts Sector

In Fayoum, Egypt, the Rabeha programme, a joint initiative of UN Women and UNIDO, is empowering women handicraft entrepreneurs like Sara Ashraf and Fatema Mawla.

Fayoum, located around a hundred kilometers southwest of Cairo, is renowned for its rich flora, fauna, and archaeological sites, with tourism driving local development. Women entrepreneurs, like Sara Ashraf and Fatema Mawla, make a significant contribution to their households and the local economy, creating traditional handicrafts such as pottery, palm leaf baskets, woven embroidery, and puppets. Despite high demand for their products, these women often face challenges in bringing their creations to market and selling at an adequate profit.

Sara Ashraf, embarked on her entrepreneurial journey four years ago, creating clothes and now leads a group of 30 women artisans. In 2023, she joined Rabeha to enhance her skills. Through Rabeha, Sara received entrepreneurship and business plan coaching, along with specialisedspecialized product design and development training provided by UNIDO. This training aimed to boost the productivity and profitability of women-led businesses in Egypt’s handicrafts sector by equipping women with the skills to create authentic products for the international market. 

Led by an international design expert, the three-week training focused on material experimentation using local resources and developing a product prototype reflecting Egypt’s identity. The training also encouraged innovative approaches, such as repurposing plastic waste to craft fashion accessories. 

Reflecting on her experience, Sara emphasized, “Rabeha helped me think carefully about how to satisfy the customer, without compromising on material or the design. Quality in every detail is more important than anything. The training also helped me think outside the box, using new materials like plastic waste, to create sustainable products and combining more than one material together.” 

Alongside skills training, Rabeha played a pivotal role in fostering collaboration among women entrepreneurs to drive collective success. Sara explained how she also joined forces with Fatema, another Rabeha beneficiary, and started working on a new product together. “I design and make models, and Fatema draws and embroiders on them because sewing is the core of my work. Currently, we are implementing a project, integrating more than one craft, and producing a new product for the market.”  

Fatema echoed this sentiment, highlighting that the training also significantly boosted their productivity, “The product and design training was very beneficial to us,” she says. „We acquired new skills that helped us save time. Tasks that used to take a week to accomplish now take 3 to 4 days.” 

As a result of the training, the women produced a new collection of modern designs and seized the opportunity to showcase their creations at the Turathna Exhibition in Cairo, from 8-14 October 2023. This annual exhibition provides networking and visibility opportunities for small handicraft producers on the local and international stage. Participation of Sara and Fatma led to a notable 40% increase in sales, illustrating the tangible impact of the training on both the quality of their designs and their livelihoods. 

“My dream is to grow my business and become a more successful businesswoman so that I can hire more women and we can expand our activities,” said Sara thinking about her future goals.

Rabeha has supported 300 women handicraft entrepreneurs to develop new business models. As these entrepreneurs aim to provide employment opportunities to other women in their communities, the ripple effect of empowerment initiated by Rabeha, and UNIDO’s targeted training initiatives, is poised to make waves in Egypt’s entrepreneurial landscape.




Rabeha (meaning “winner” in Arabic) aims to support the economic empowerment of more than 6,300 women in 7 governorates through increased access to employment and self-employment opportunities. The programme is implemented by UN Women and UNIDO in partnership with the National Council for Women (NCW), the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI) and the Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises Development Agency (MSMEDA), with the generous support of Global Affairs Canada (GAC).