When she was little, Nabila Radwan was given a silver corn pendant by her mother. It was to become a sort of talisman for, years later, Nabila is now the owner of Dahab’s first corn shop, Dora.
“I can walk at 3am without fear”
The journey from pendant to store has not been an easy one for Nabila. “I was living in Cairo for 23 years”, she told us, “I like it very much but I can’t stand the pollution, heavy traffic, and harassment”. The harassment left her feeling afraid, “after 12am, or maybe after 10pm, especially in winter”. Living in fear of the men on the streets even hindered Nabila’s entrepreneurial spirit, “I had to search in a lot of places for things that I should have in my projects but I had to go to Al-Attaba. It’s a very crowded place so I had to go in the morning with open eyes to be safe, or I had to ask one of my friends to go with me to protect me from theft or harassment”. It was living with this constant fear in polluted Cairo that drove Nabila to Dahab, “I can sit by the sea every day,” she says “I like the quiet of it and it is a very safe area; I can walk at 3am without fear”.
However, moving to Dahab did not put an end to the everyday sexism Nabila faced. Instead, a different facet of sexism was revealed as Nabila struggled to be taken seriously as a businesswoman. “In Dora, my partner and I painted the walls by ourselves,” she says, “we didn’t ask for someone to help us; we became the plumber and the carpenter.” Yet when people saw a woman doing manual labour, their reaction was far from positive. “When people saw me with him holding a very tall ladder, they said “Oh, how can you let her do this? She is a young girl, why do you treat her like this.” They asked me to go away and said they would help him. This was so hurtful to me.”
“I love being a woman”.
Even now that her store is open, Nabila still faces problems. Her two business partners are both men but they do not live in Dahab so she told us that, “when I deal with traders they ask me “Where is Medhat [one of her business partners]?” and I say “I’m here and I’m the manager, don’t ask me why I’m here, it’s not good to remind me that I am weak because I am a woman”. In our interview, she was adamant that she did not feel weak “I’m strong” she said, “I love being a woman”.
It was her mother who taught her to love being a woman and a strong one at that. “When I was five” she says, “I wanted to be a boy so I could play in the street until 12am but my mother taught me how to do what I want even though I am a woman”. From the five year old who wanted to play in the street with the boys to the woman who now competes as an entrepreneur with the men, Nabila has held on to one particular piece of advice from her mother. “God created us to be women who rule the world so rule your world, dear.” This to her is “the most important thing”.
It was also her mother who, when Nabila opened Dora, found that old silver pendant lying forgotten at home. Nabila wears it all the time now, to her it is proof that Dora “is like an old dream, it’s my destiny”.