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Empowering Ethiopian Women

12 August 2010 By New Israel Fund


Empowering Ethiopian Women
Lakiya Yardeni of Ahoti – Sister for Women in Israel

Lakiya Yardeni is a born leader.  The 48 year-old mother of six reached Israel from Ethiopia via Sudan in 1989 and settled in the northern Negev city of Kiryat Gat.  After working in agriculture for many years, she started training the women of her community in leadership skills.  Today she runs the Embroidery Center operated by Ahoti (Sister for Women in Israel), an NIF grantee which helps Mizrachi, Ethiopian, Arab and other disadvantaged women realize their economic, cultural and employment aspirations.

Lakiya recalls, “When I first started organizing leadership courses, the men refused to let their women come.  I coaxed them.  Please come just once a week, I said, and learn about Israeli society.  In the end 70 women came.”  However, Yardeni felt that the leadership courses were not enough.  She wanted to develop programs that would alleviate the economic distress faced by women in her community.  She decided to commercially market traditional crafts of Ethiopian women – weaving, embroidery, sculpture and more – and thus the idea of the Embroidery Center was born.  Twenty-six women currently come to the Center, and Ahoti markets their products mainly through the Comme Il Faut fashion enterprise.  Among the women at the Center is Chahainesh, a recent immigrant from Ethiopia.  She says with tears in her eyes, “I get between $20 and $30 for each item I make.  This is the first money I have ever earned.”  Yardeni observes that the money the women earn buys them more than basic necessities; “it also buys them the respect of their husbands and pride in their own traditions and capabilities.”  At the same time, these women are preserving and taking pride in traditional handicrafts that have been passed down from generation to generation. 

Founded in 2000, Ahoti creates models of occupational empowerment such as the Ethiopian Embroidery Center (now being replicated by a group of Arab women) and the Women's Community Kitchen project, which has trained women with cooking skills to set up a cooperative catering business.  Ahoti has also opened Israel's first Fair Trade store, located in Tel Aviv and promotes awareness of fair trade practices in Israel.  Ahoti has been funded by the New Israel Fund since its founding, and receives consulting services from Shatil.