New opportunities for women artisans in Upper Egypt

Shaimaa Abdo El Naggar, 30, lives in Qena, one of Upper Egypt’s poorest governorates, with low income levels, poor infrastructure and lack of social services.

Like many in the area, Shaimaa had to drop out from school at a young age, since education is considered a luxury for girls in the region. Recent surveys show that some 22.1% of young women aged 10-29 do not have the opportunity to receive a formal education.

Though a talented artisan in traditional handicrafts, Shaimaa struggled for years to promote her products within local communities and secure a decent living for herself and her family. With limited resources and training to make her craft profitable, it seemed like an impossible task for her to escape a life of poverty.


  • The 5-years initiative focuses on youth and women’s socio-economic empowerment, particularly on job creation, vocational training and literacy.
  • A total of 2,135 young women and men have completed training through ENID, and 573 people have found employment.
  • So far, 21 pilot projects have been implemented in Qena, one of the poorest provinces in Egypt, with the aim of expanding to other governorates.
  • The total estimated budget for the project is US$ 4.7 million, with contributions from UNDP, the UK, Sweden, the Sawiris Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation and UN Women.

Help came in the form of a handicrafts training programme for female-headed households, supported by UNDP. The Egypt Network for Integrated Development (ENID) is a five-year initiative that links literacy education with vocational training to generate new income, improve food security and enhance basic and public services for the marginalized communities and people of Upper Egypt.

Partnering with local NGOs, ENID provides training in four areas: entrepreneurship, basic services, agriculture development and opportunities for women and youth. A total of 2,135 young women and men have completed training through ENID, and 573 people have found employment.

The initiative also helped open youth centres, preschools and even a mobile health unit in the most disadvantaged villages of the region. Part of the programme includes a trip to India where local artisans can enhance their skills and promote their work globally. Shaimaa was one of the local Egyptian artisans chosen to go.

“I thought: I will go to India and sell and market my products. Yet when I was there, I realized how much I was missing. I saw new skills, techniques and was exposed to a tremendous number of ideas that I can now incorporate in my work,” she says.

Moving forward, the initiative is expanding the range of vocational training offered, including painting, patchwork, beads and glass casting. The aim is to create 45 products in 45 villages of the Qena province by the end of the project and cover other governorates of Upper Egypt in the near future.

ENID was set up in mid-2012 by UNDP with support and contributions from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development, the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation and UN Women. It is implemented locally in cooperation with the Ministry of International Cooperation.

There are many challenges that Shaimaa still has to face, but ENID’s literacy and skills training for young women have given her a better perspective on how she can shape her life going forward.

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