The life of women refugee entrepreneurs


In July we – photographer Jeroen Berkhout and myself – continued our photographic documentary ‘Selling Strength’ by visiting refugee settlements in Lebanon and Jordan. For the third year in a row we visited this region with the aim to interview and photograph women refugee entrepreneurs. And things have changed over time, unfortunately not for the better. 

Refugee settlements are even more overcrowded than they already were, problems like drug use are increasing, and the economic situation worsened in both countries. This makes life extremely difficult for people living there, knowing that the road towards a ‘normal’ job matching one’s talents, is almost completely blocked for the millions of Palestinian and Syrian refugees. There is no way of getting out of the bad conditions by having a regular income and to build up a life like so many other citizens. Micro entrepreneurship can be an option for at least a part of the women living in these harsh conditions.

Meeting refugee women like Hoda and Maha again after two years was sad in a way that they have great difficulties running their businesses, but on the other hand admirable to see they’re still finding a way to cope with the circumstances. The women are strong, continuously looking for opportunities, keeping hold of the family money so that it is spend wisely, and being active 24/7 to create a family life. I see it with my own eyes: women are the true agents of change…

But they cannot change the world by themselves alone. They need e.g. an assisting institutional and legal framework, financial funds which are available and fair, a collaborative community, and good education. All of these instruments will probably sound logical and available for most of you reading this blog. But imagine that none of these are within reach of the women refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. This means that they do not get a fair chance of being a successful entrepreneur and make a living for themselves and their families. Creating their own income and not ‘taking away the jobs’ of Jordanians and Lebanese people, as so many natives have told us.

In meeting these great women in cities, village and refugee settlements, I was wondering what we could do as academics. There is research being executed on necessity entrepreneurship, but mainly in macro perspective. My call is to have more applied research on what programs would best suit women refugees, which cooperation forms would be valuable for them (within the political and legal constructs off course), what kind of training programs would best suit their needs, et cetera. There is hardly any research of this kind, but in my opinion very needed to know where the millions of euro’s are best spend on, and most importantly, to really help the women refugees in becoming personally empowered and economically independent. Then they will definitely be the agents of change…

If you have any ideas on any of these topics please let me know.
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