Umm Yasser is breaking new ground among the deeply traditional Bedouin people of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Amid a stunning vista of desert mountains, she points out a local plant, explaining its medicinal use to the foreign tourists she guides.
Bedouin women almost never work outside the home—nor do they interact with outsiders. But Umm Yasser is one of four women from the community who for the first time are working as tour guides. Despite potential criticism, Umm Yasser persists. She has skills to offer, and she needs income.
“It is against our culture, but women need jobs,” the 47-year-old woman says. “People will make fun of us, but I don’t care. I’m a strong woman.”
In 2015, Bedouin tribes began the Sinai Trail project to draw tourist income. They missed out on the beach resorts and desert safaris of the southern Sinai. The project offers visitors a 42-day trek over 330 miles. It has successfully brought some income to eight Bedouin tribes.
Until now, all guides were men. Only the Hamada tribe, one of the smallest, oldest, and poorest, allows women to guide—with conditions.
A woman may guide only other women. Tours cannot last over night. Before sunset, the female group returns to the Hamada’s village in the narrow Wadi Sahu valley. Tourists may photograph their female guide only when she wears a full veil, covering even her eyes.
Umm Yasser hiked from childhood. She knows the area by heart. She signed up—then convinced the families of three other women to let them guide tours too.
While male guides range far from home, the women stay close, sharing a rich knowledge of plants and herbs, history and legends. Bedouin girls tag along, talking of being guides in the future.
Umm Yasser doubts other Bedouin women will join her soon. But, she says, “There is no shame in working.”
The Hamada live in small concrete houses without running water. Electricity is limited. Hamada men often leave for work at resorts or in mines farther south.
“We need money to help support our families,” Umm Yasser says. “We need blankets, clothes for the children, washing machines, fridges, books for school.”
Attitudes change slowly. But Mohammed Salman, an elderly man from the Aligat tribe, approves of women who work. “Many men say no, a woman’s place is at home. But I’m sick of this ideology. She’s a human being,” he says.
Indeed. God made woman to be man’s strong helper, side by side working in the world. Motherhood is of undeniably great importance, but the Bible shows women filling other roles too. Zipporah was a shepherdess, Debra a judge, the Proverbs 31 woman an entrepreneur. Lydia was a merchant, Priscilla a tentmaker, Phoebe a servant and messenger of the new church. And God used each to show others the One who gave them their gifts and called them to use them.