A striving family business made by women for women
"There wasn't anywhere women could go to decompress and change scenery."
Zeinab, 43, is a mother of seven living in Kofranjeh-Ajloun, Jordan. The job market is tough these days, especially for new graduates like her three daughters, which is why Zeinab had to think outside the box. “My daughters graduated from university and they tried to find jobs but they couldn’t find anything.” Zeinab realised her village was missing a gym and, with her girls having degrees in sports and nutrition, she decided to give it a try and develop a business where they would be employed. She took out a loan in 2018 and opened her gym.
“Since there weren’t any gyms in Kofranjeh, meaning there wasn’t anywhere women could go to decompress and change scenery, the turnout was good at first,” she explains. Unfortunately, after some initial success, people started realising the gym did not really offer good enough services: the equipment and the infrastructure were just too outdated.
“The charity where I took the loan told me about [an EU-funded project led by the EuroMed Feminist Initiative (IFE-EFI) and their trainings]. That same charity enabled me to grow and develop my business.” Zeinab and one of her daughters were then able to follow specific trainings that helped them step up their business. Then, IFE-EFI’s representatives “came to visit me and they assessed the situation, to see what wasn’t working and they started the rehabilitation of the gym,” she explains.
She continues: “at first, I took an accounting training at the [EFI-led business development centre] and I also took a communications and marketing training. I really benefited from them: I acquired communication skills and learned how to deal with the public.” Zeinab had the chance to also market her business to attract more customers, especially through social media and by learning from bigger gyms in the capital. “We learnt how to run the business and my daughters too gained a lot of knowledge,” she says.
Opening this gym has definitely been a godsend for this family. Zeinab was working really hard to allow her daughters to go to university so they could be able to provide for themselves and their family. Everyone in Zeinab’s family chips in: the younger ones help at home, and her husband takes care of their child with down syndrome while she manages the gym.
“I am very proud that I was able to give my girls an education and that I can help my family, I can provide for them and […] I thank all the people who have supported me and stood by me, and helped me stand on my feet,” she says with pride.
It doesn’t stop here, however. Zeinab wants to do more for her community: “I would like, in the future, to open a day-care centre because the mothers here need it. They want to come to the gym but they don’t know where to leave their children. By providing this service,” she says, “I would have a bigger number of women [coming to the gym].”
Life hardships should not stop anyone from achieving their goals: “we should move forward and face life with all our energy and power. I tell every woman to look for a job that will benefit them and their children,” she concludes.
Thanks to the financial support of the EU via the Trust Fund, IFE-EFI works to promote gender equality and empower women on the national level through a wide variety of services that reach almost 45,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese and Syrian refugee women and girls.
Um, mother of three and living in Kofranjeh Ajloun with her husband and family, is a regular at the gym Zeinab has recently opened. “I have cancer,” explains Um. “I come here to the gym to exercise. […] Because of my health, my legs were very weak and I couldn’t really move anymore. I came here and started using the equipment and doing some exercises. I go to the sauna because it is very good for me and the muscles in my legs.”
Besides the usual health-related benefits of working out, members of Zeinab’s gym like Um have access to a community of people, a support system and a place where they can meet and unwind.