The Gaza restaurant run by women, for women offering a haven of peace

A Palestinian woman has fulfilled her dream of becoming a chef in the male-dominated Gaza Strip thanks to a new restaurant where she runs an all-female team that caters to an all-female clientele.

Opened last month and offering light fare like chicken sandwiches and pizza, the restaurant, named Sabaia VIP, is doing good business in a congested, conservative enclave where some women complain of a lack of private and safe places for recreation.

Amena Al-Hayek says other restaurants only wanted male chefs. (Reuters: Mohammad Salem)

Chef Amena Al-Hayek trained in a hotel restaurant where she worked for free.

Although there were openings there for new chefs, she was never considered.

“The administration rejected [me],” she says.

“They said they wanted a male leader, not a female.”

A woman reaches out while another cuts a cucumber
Palestinian chef Amena Al-Hayek observes staff working in the new women-only restaurant.(Reuters: Mohammad Salem)
Bird's eye view of a person cutting carrots, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes
Sabaia VIP employs eight women.(Reuters: Mohammad Salem)

Sabaia means “Lasses” in Arabic, a playful choice of words for a clientele made up of women of all ages – not men.

“The idea was born out of our need to have something private, where we can enjoy our independence and privacy, a place for women only,” owner Reham Hamouda said.

Mrs. Hamouda employs eight women on her staff and others who prepare the food at home.

A woman in a restaurant carries a tray with bottles of water on it
The restaurant serves light meals like chicken sandwiches and pizzas.(Reuters: Mohammad Salem)

This provides much-needed income in Gaza, where unemployment hovers around 50%.

“We proved to the world that we were capable of opening a restaurant and being successful without the supervision of a man,” Ms. Hayek said.


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