Lebanese Hikers trek to Rashaya to mark Women’s Day

A group of Lebanese hikers celebrated International Women’s Day on Sunday by organizing a hike to a women’s cooperative in the west Bekaa region of Rashaya.

The roots of International Women’s Day began over 150 years ago. On March 8, 1857, hundreds of women staged a strike against the textile factories in New York City, protesting low wages and long working hours. In 1910, at a meeting in Copenhagen, the Women’s Socialist International decided to commemorate this strike by observance of an annual day for women’s rights/issues – International Women’s Day (IWD).

Today, IWD is observed to emphasize women’s equal rights and opportunities worldwide, as well as to celebrate the determination of ordinary women. This year’s special focus was on “Women and Education.” Formal education is often ignored in Lebanon’s rural regions where the ambition of most young women remains to get married to the boy next door – if he has a home and a car. However, the establishment of women’s cooperatives have empowered women from rural communities to become ambassadors for their country’s culinary diversity.

On Sunday, Cyclamen, a division of Lebanese tour operator TLB Destinations and member of CIFA (Centre pour l’Insertion par la Formation et l’Activite), a non-profit organization, organized a trip to the women’s cooperative Wadi al- Taym, Rashaya, to celebrate rural women’s achievements. CIFA focuses on the associations between responsible tourism and sustainable development, and collaborates with Cyclamen to organize “responsible” trips to Lebanon’s rural regions.

After arriving at the village square the group walked up to the citadel and started a 10-kilometer hike with local guide Mehdi al-Fayek along the Lebanon Mountain Trail, the first long-distance hiking trail in Lebanon extending over 440 kilometers from the north to the south. The hikers shared a picnic lunch under the shade of a 400-year-old tree – sandwiches and pies purchased locally – and then headed on to the Wadi al-Taym.

“The women from the village of Rashaya should somehow gain from our visit so we encouraged people to purchase products from the local cooperative,” said Sabina Llewellyn-Davies, project manager, CIFA. Some of the visitors were clearly already socially responsible shoppers who buy from farmers’ markets such as Souk al-Tayeb. Others are seeking healthy products which give fair trade to the rural communities.

“This visit improved my awareness as I learned that the products are exported to the UK. The place looks clean and the women were very welcoming,” said Diana Bazzi , IT consultant. “And I loved their pumpkin jam and honey. We should encourage and support them to expand their market .”

The hike was not targeted exclusively at women – men were of also encouraged to come along to celebrate Lebanon’s women. “After being totally oblivious to the existence of such co-ops (and after visiting a couple of them), they became my first choice for shopping for locally processed goods,” said Nizar Jawhar, a statistician, at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Ibtissam, one of the 28 women who own and run the cooperative was on hand to sell the products and pour cups of tea to refresh the weary hikers.

Several of the participants stayed on at the bed and breakfast of Kamal al-Sahili in Rashaya. The lodging is within the Dhiafee program, a network of rural accommodations throughout Lebanon conceived by ANERA in 2006.

“We always encourage overnight stays in the rural lodgings within the Dhiafee program for visitors to familiarize themselves better with the region,” said Llewellyn-Davies.

“The accommodation was excellent. Khalil’s wife Nour welcomed us with open arms and prepared a lovely home-cooked meal for us in the evening,” said Sylvia Shorto, an assistant professor at AUB. “Our visit during the day to the women’s co-op raised awareness for local products and food traditions and it certainly raised my interest in regional specialties,” added Shorto.

“What also impressed me are the women of Rachaya village, they are really welcoming; as we walked past homes we were constantly invited in,” added Bazzi.



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