During the month of March, or Women's History Month, we will be featuring guest stories of women who are making history in their own way.
In this post, we feature Jar Thuraya, a woman-led social enterprise preserving rural and social heritage while supporting female producers of traditional Lebanese foods.
As a woman first, an architect, an activist in sustainable development and an entrepreneur, I feel a constant urge to contribute in social and economic development in my society. Women around the world are facing different forms of inequality and especially on our side of the world, where cultural and religious norms stand in the way of women's full independence.
In my country, women in rural areas are known for the skills in traditional food preparation and preservation, also known as mouneh. Food production and preparation in the rural areas are often a result of cooperation between women, called “aoune.” Mouneh (old food tradition still produced in rural Lebanon involving the annual processing of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and animal by-products. It is done naturally according to availability during each season. The foods are later stored away in the pantry or "oodet el mouneh," which translates to the mouneh room and these preserves are consequently consumed all year long. Such foods include kishk, zaatar, labneh, molasses… ), has an important social dimension that generates from the collaboration of women who live in the same villages during the supply season. They lend each other utensils, and workstations, also share tips on complex food making such as the kishk. This collaboration, especially during the summer season, when preparing the mouneh, strengthens the bonds and increases the efficiency of the work, making it more enjoyable and part of a social commitment between neighbors.
Apart from its social aspect, these alliances have a considerable economic impact because the women who work together derive a mutual benefit. It has become an important feature of traditional rural life throughout the Lebanese history, where poverty makes cooperation necessary. Mouneh represents almost 70% of the traditional Mezze, the traditional cuisine that serves over 90% of the Lebanese population.
Jar Thuraya was born to help women working the rural areas sell their homemade products to a wider market. Our mission is to highlight the importance of intangible heritage and the local food industry but also acknowledge the efforts of the women and their villages. Our project was developed under the United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Five different sustainable development goals are the pillars of the startup: Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Sustainable cities and communities, Responsible consumption and production, and Partnership for the goals.
75% of Lebanese households consume mouneh on a daily basis, and more than 60% of the consumers buy their products from the villages and avoid supermarket food. Our initiative serves three different purposes from which women, youth and the rural areas of Lebanon would benefit.
1. Empower women by re-selling their local homemade products (mouneh) through online channels and create for them personal brands by adding their names and villages on the labels of the products. In addition to that, publish their own profiles online, and allow them the opportunity to be known and recognized.
- Give the women a feeling of financial independence and boost their confidence by giving them the needed exposure they strive for in order to reach the market faster.
- Export local products internationally and allow Lebanese expats the possibility to receive a taste of home.
2. Boost rural areas by adding the names of the villages where the products come from on the labels and promote them through various forms of online interactions. In addition to that, publish all of the information related to the villages and the various services they offer and post information about the product itself and its ingredients.
- Collaborate with NGOs and SMEs, whose mission is to work on different rural tourism implementations around the Lebanese villages and engage the youth in physical activities along the hiking trails.
3. Organize and host events and cooking activities with the star women around guest houses to teach visitors recipes, and engage them in culinary activities.
- In order to preserve the cycle of traditions, this form of intangible heritage preservation will be the tool to revive the techniques that many of the youth lack.
4. Create networking opportunities for the youth to reconnect with others from the same village. Any Lebanese individual around the world will be given the opportunity to virtually meet and connect with people who come from the same village as him in order to tighten the relationship between people who have been deprived a soul connection to their lands.
- Through this initiative, people from around the world will be able to learn more about the Lebanese villages and connect with long lost family, friends, or natives of the same town.
Using recycled materials, we have developed a plastic-free sustainable packaging in which we store and sell the homemade products. Not only are these products consumed frequently within our cultures, they also have a positive impact on our beneficiaries. At the moment, we are operating with five different women from around Lebanon and we have started selling our products in the local market. Through Jar Thuraya, women with minimal market exposure will get the chance to invest in their skills and generate income, be more active and productive, widen their customer base and collaborate in the exposure of their villages. While working on the expansion of our services, we have grown our collection of products that vary per season and the availability of the resources and their harvest dates.
The development of the project has been a bumpy ride: for over a year, obstacles and external factors have been getting in the way of our schedule. However, working with the women and l earning more about them and about their lives has brought us closer. Jar Thuraya turned into a family that is slowly growing, a community of strong and empowered women, creative and proud of themselves, capable of supporting their
families and contributing in the economic cycle of their villages. Lebanon is known for its culinary heritage; we aim to reach as many women as possible from all around the country.
"To every woman out there trying to build an empire, believe in yourself and always work in ways that make you happy. Surround yourself with people who empower you to become better and support you during your bumpy rides. I get to share this startup with the love of my life, a person who believed in me and supported every decision that led us to today’s success. Hard work and a little faith will make your dreams come true."
-Martine Zaarour, founder of Jar Thuraya
Martine Zaarour is an architect, an activist in sustainable development, and the co-founder of Jar Thuraya, a heritage preservation startup based in Lebanon that empowers rural women working with traditional food, also known as mouneh, and creates marketing opportunities for them and their seasonally-varying products.
Jar Thuraya was selected as best in category for cultural and environmental preservation by Legacy International during a fellowship hosted by the US Department of State in Washington DC, and represented by UNDP Arab States at the ECOSOC Conference at the UN Assembly Hall in New York.