Fatima Naseer is only 21 but she’s breaking the glass ceiling and circumventing cultural and social stereotype in her country, Libya, by creating an avenue that actively involves women in the Libyan workforce. Naseer’s startup, Yummy, is an online marketplace that gives women a place to sell homemade food by connecting them with customers.
For Nasser, her platform is more of a social enterprise than anything else; the 21-year-old says the idea for establishing Yummy is driven less by profit and more by its potential social impact. Traditionally, women in Libya are more likely to be housewives than take up jobs in a workplace. According to the World Bank, only 24.6 percent of women in Libya were employed in 2017. Nasser is determined to change this through her platform.
“I’m just doing something to help women that I know deserve better. They need opportunities, just like males,” Yasser told Reuters. However, conservative Muslim societies such as hers are not readily accepting of new ideas that challenge cultural norms. “When you come up with a new idea in a society like this, you really have to take into consideration the traditions and the social limitations. We didn’t want to come up with an idea that people would be afraid of,” she told CNN.
With Yummy, women are able to work from home and conduct business anonymously without having to interact with male customers. Something Naseer considers liberating and socially acceptable. There is also a current trend of women making things at home and selling them as part of an informal economy and an increased economic need for women to work due to conflict and insecurity in the country, “We thought, why not get these women to be part of the formal economy and expand their businesses?” said Naseer.
Naseer’s zeal to advocate for women and promote female-owned businesses stems from her upbringing; her mother is one of the founding members of the Women’s Union in the South of Libya. “I’ve always noticed this gap between men and women, and an inequality in society that I wanted to solve. I was lucky to grow up in a better environment than most of my friends. Both my parents worked at a university and had a balance between them. My brother did housework, as I did,” she told The Telegraph.
Having tested her platform successfully in Sabha, her hometown with just 20 cooks, Naseer is set to officially launch her platform this month in Tripoli and Benghazi with 300 cooks already signed up. The platform has also been awarded a top prize in Libya’s first Enjazi Startup Competition, held by Tatweer Research, a government-funded company dedicated to creating Libya’s knowledge economy, and MIT Enterprise Forum.
However, the process of establishing Yummy has not been devoid of challenges for Naseer who has been the target of cyberbullying on Libyan national television. The 21-year-old was recently labelled a foreign spy wanting to corrupt women by bringing liberal thinking. “My picture was posted everywhere, alongside things about my Mum,” she said. But her mother helped her get over it by helping her realise that the backlash simply meant her work was having an impact. “It really shows how afraid they are of strong women and that I’m actually doing something,” she said.