Bedouin Women Take the Lead at Guiding Tourists Through Sinai
In the midst of the soaring mountaintops and the unforgiving deserts of South Sinai, a Bedouin woman, Umm Yasser, points a group of tourists at a local herb and explains how it is used in traditional medicine. She is one of four women from the Hamada community who is taking the lead in guiding tourists through Sinai’s terrain.
For generations, the idea of women working outside their homes was something unimaginable to the Bedouins of South Sinai; it is unthinkable in their deeply-conservative culture. However, Umm Yasser, Umm Soliman, Aicha, and Selima think that even though it goes against their tradition, it is their God-given right.
These female guides are part of the famed Sinai Mountain Trail, a 550-kilometer trail that runs through the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula. The project is run by a confederation of tribesmen from all niches of the Bedouin community; the aim was introducing an off-the-beaten-track form of tourism and create thousands of jobs for the people of these tribes.
In 2015, the Co-Founder of the trail Ben Hoffler believed that women should be an inseparable part of the project, but the elders of each tribe adamantly refused. “How can we be credible calling this the ‘Sinai Trail’ if the women aren’t involved?” the British visionary said.
With time, one of the oldest, most impoverished of the tribes, the Hamadas agreed, but not without demands. For instance, the tribesmen asked that women-led tours should be composed of female tourists only, and that, these tourists should not take photographs of the women guides unless they are fully-veiled with their faces completely covered.
Umm Yasser was the first to line up; after all, she had started hiking when she was a child and has known the mountains and valleys by heart. She was the one who convinced the families of the other women to join her.
Singlehandedly, she is changing her community’s perspective, breaking new grounds with each step. Because of this, the attitudes are starting to change around the home village of Hamda by Wadi Sahu and elsewhere. Mohammed Salman, an elderly man from the Aligat tribe, said he thought the guides project was a great step for women. “If a woman wants to work, she should be able to have the right to,” he said. “Many men say no, a woman’s place is at home. But I’m sick of this ideology. She’s a human being.”
On a two-day tour, Umm Yasser guided 16 foreign tourists throughout the endless scenery of mountainous Sinai. Young Bedouin girls tagged along, and one could hear them speaking of how they want to be guides when they grow up; it seems that it is all changing for the better.