Mama Zahra, Businesswoman


Mama Zahra, Businesswoman

A Sudanese Success Story

In this interview with Sudanese businesswomen Mama Zahra from Night Emanuel Ska, Mama Zahra explains how she built her business and gives tips to other Sudanese women who want to be small business owners.

Mama Zahra is one of the most well-known business women in Juba (the capitol of Southern Sudan), and she's trying to empower other women to start their own small business. Her real name is Rose Fatgura Famous, but she is better known as Mama Zahra. She grew up as an orphan and started her first business when she was very young, selling food at a stand near her house. On her first day of work, she didn't make any money, but she didn't give up. Over time she built up a loyal clientele, and now she has two restaurants. 

Mama Zahra employs mostly women because women have a harder time getting jobs or going to school. I chose to profile Mama Zahra because she has succeeded in her business in spite of war and poverty. She is an illiterate woman and through her business she is providing jobs for other illiterate women. Women in Sudan have fewer work opportunities than men, even though women are typically the breadwinners of their families. This is because education and training opportunities are much better for boys and men. This has led to lack of training and education for women and girls that has in turn lead to gender gap in education.

Thus, the businesses women undertake depend on the skills they already have and a division of labor exists between formal and informal sector on the basis of gender. Women work in the informal sector because this is their only option, running small businesses such as sewing and food stands even though this is not highly regarded by the Sudanese people, who are conservatives and traditionalists. Additionally, some women work in light industries such as textiles and food packaging.

Overall, women only represent 10 or 20 percent of managerial and administrative jobs, and they're very poorly represented in the ranks of power, policy, and decision making. If a woman is employed in the formal sector, she receives lesser pay. Overall, job opportunities for women in Sudan are very few because most of them don't have the necessary qualifications. 

Mama Zahra's story proves that women can make a change through small businesses. I encourage all young Sudanese ladies who didn't get an education to work hard and establish themselves in their communities by doing any kind of legal and acceptable business. Education is not only going to school but it is learning from life experience, others, etc. Anything is possible through working hard and faith. Hope, patience, and belief will lead you to what you want to achieve.

When I graduate, I would like to open a literacy center for women. Women face many problems with bank procedures, such as underwriting loans. Then I plan to work in banks--especially in microfinance--to help women to take out loans for small business enterprises. 

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