Traditional embroidery is an important part of Palestinian culture, rich in cultural meaning and symbolism. Palestinian women play a considerable role in maintaining this heritage, particularly through the preservation of traditional techniques and by mounting local and international exhibitions of their work. Common motifs such as the cypress tree ‘suru’ are found in many pieces, and symbols may also serve to convey messages; for example, the embroidery on the traditional dresses ‘thob’ worn by women indicate the area a woman is from.
Successful embroidery enterprises have played an important part in providing a source of empowerment and financial independence for a number of Palestine refugee women. Umm Ra’ad lives in Hebron and is one of UNRWA’s microfinance programme beneficiaries. She established an embroidery shop using a microfinance loan. Her shop, ‘Al-Rawan and Al-Marwa’, sells traditional products and handicrafts.
Not only does she produces traditional products, but she has also added new ideas and innovations. She has added embroidered forms and shapes on modern clothes, shoes, cushions, clocks and mirrors. These innovations are used to renew the traditional forms of embroidery while keeping the basic elements of their contents.
Umm Ra’ad’s shop not only provides employment for herself but also provides jobs for other women, whom she employs to sew and design embroidery. She also offers them training in new techniques.
Umm Ra’ad’s enterprise, along with many other female-run microfinance enterprises, is an excellent example of women not only preserving traditional skills and cultural heritage, but also using these skills to strike out and forge their own financial independence and stability.