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Desert Embroidery



3BeduinWOMENwaterWomen’s Empowerment Through Desert Embroidery

Camels, tents and women in black embroidered dresses swaying over the desert sand: visitors to the Negev desert in Israel can still catch glimpses of this romantic picture from the past.  But today most of Israeli’s 177,700 Bedouin live in towns and unrecognized villages. The transition from nomadic lifestyle to permanent settlement has brought many changes, particularly for women.

The nomadic Bedouin woman enjoyed a central position in Bedouin Society. She herded the family goats and sheep, drew water from the well, raised vegetables in the family plot, educated her children in the traditions of her tribe and her Moslem religion, prepared food on an open fire, wove and embroidered her family’s clothing, among her many tasks. She enjoyed meeting her neighbors at the well and carried on an extensive social life despite the distances in the desert.

With the move to permanent settlement, the Bedouin woman moved from the open horizons of the desert to the four walls of her own house. Her traditional tasks were replaced by those of a housewife. Her economic contribution to her family vanished, as did her opportunities for a social life.

Embroiderers What is Desert Embroidery?

In the 1980s a group of young women from the town of Lakia in the northern Negev got together with the goal of trying to help women by organizing summer camps for children, teaching women to read and write, and more. Gradually their ideas evolved until the Desert Embroidery Project became the flagship of the first Bedouin women’s non-profit organization:  The Association for the Improvement of Women's Status, Lakia.  Today the Desert Embroidery Project provides employment and income for Bedouin women based on their traditional skills of embroidery which are utilized at home without interfering with the women’s regular chores. At the same time Desert Embroidery provides women with lectures and trips which broaden their horizons, and expand their social interactions.

The Desert Embroidery Project preserves and develops traditional embroidery skills to empower women to increase their earning power and develop self-confidence. The project has trained over 160 artisans to date and developed over 40 products.  A major goal of the project is to expand to the other Bedouin communities in the Negev to help all Bedouin women achieve economic empowerment.

WomanSewingHow does Desert Embroidery Operate?

The women participating in the project embroider at home at their leisure and bring their handiwork to the project center once a week. A core group of women is responsible for product design and development, provision of embroidery materials, worker training, product marketing, and project management. An additional group of women work at fabricating the basic items and ensuring quality control of the finished goods.

Desert Embroidery is a home-based industry whose workers are paid fixed prices for the different items they produce each month. Rather than having to wait until their work is sold, their income is stabile because it is based on production for stock. All the women receive their embroidery materials free of charge from the project. In order to supply these materials and pay the women, the project depends on sales of the embroidered items plus the funding it receives from donors. The number of women who can be employed by the project at any given time is a function of both sales income and project funding.

hasbaraDCF530How Does Desert Embroidery Contribute to Women’s Empowerment?

Desert Embroidery addresses the issue of women's status in the Bedouin community by focusing on the need for developing alternative sources of income through the creation of a home industry based on traditional skills to restore women’s contributions to their family’s earnings and promote gender equality.  Desert Embroidery develops these skills into contemporary projects which are sold to tourists and other visitors at our Visitor Center.

The weekly meetings at the Association headquarters provide an opportunity for women to meet, exchange ideas and talk about their lives. At least once a month the women in the project participate in lectures and trips which expand their knowledge in such areas as education, social welfare, economics, health and more.  The women in the project have gained self-respect and the respect of their families for their economic contribution.  Some women have opened their own businesses at home.

Where Can I Buy Desert Embroidery Products?

The embroidery the women produce is made into a variety of decorative items including pillow covers, handbags and cosmetic bags, wall hangings, place mats and clothing. All the items are for sale at the Visitor Center store in Lakia.  In addition, products can be ordered through the catalog on our website. Additional points of sale include the Beer Sheba Artist House.

Does Desert Embroidery Produce Anything Else?

Yes. Several women from the Association have undergone training in jewelry making and we have added traditional Bedouin jewelry to our product line.

We also partner with DuArt of Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk to create decorative home and office products combining recycled paper and embroidery.