Narya & Ahara
According to recent studies, an estimated 20 percent of the prison population in Egypt are debtors, the majority of which are women. Trapped by illiteracy and poverty, many Egyptian women spend years in jail for borrowing money they cannot repay due to worsening socioeconomic conditions. In many cases, women are imprisoned over small debts – some as low as EGP 300 ($20 USD). According to the studies, the term “debts” is applied to women who resorted to borrowing money to help their families improve economic conditions, and overcome poverty; they were unable to pay back on time, which led them to lay behind bars for long periods. Article 376 of the Egyptian Penal Code (Law No. 58 of 1937) states that debtors may face up to three years in jail for failure to pay back their dues.
Three years away from their children. Three years living under the harsh conditions of Egyptian prisons only for being poor. And when these women finally come out of prison, they are refused by society and have a nearly impossible time to find jobs that will help them pick up the pieces and get their lives back on track.
Hana Moataz is a young fashion designer and artist from Alexandria, Egypt, who along with her best friend Nourhan shared the passion for creating sustainable fashion with locally sourced materials. The issue of incarcerated women debtors was close to Hana’s heart since a majority of them come from the Abyss region in Alexandria, Hana’s hometown. Aiming to assist female debtors in finding a solid source of income, Hana and Nourhan started a project called Narya and Ahara an online clothing store, which provides employment to formerly incarcerated women debtors to help reintegrate them into society and provide them with income to support themselves and their families.
“People need to understand that those women are not criminals,they are victims of poverty,” says Hana. The women had invaluable skills in sewing, stitching and creating beautiful garments and accessories that Narya and Ahara utilizes to produce sustainable fashion for sale. Hana leaned into the power of social media to market and sell the products, generating revenue that goes towards the salaries of 20 women, giving them a stable source of income.
The first collection released shortly after Mother’s Day in 2020 and generated quite the buzz on social media, garnering the attention of local media which hosted Hana on several TV shows to speak about her project. Each clothing item was sent to its new owner with a hand written note from the woman who made it to create a connection and showcase how the money paid for the product has gone to make a change in someone’s life.
With a mini grant and mentoring support from Peace First, Hana has been able to grow her project through collaboration with other local organizations to produce and distribute the products she was designing and the women were creating. Using Facebook and Instagram as their virtual stores, Narya and Ahara have over 90,000 followers. As the business continues to grow and garner more media attention, Hana will be able to not only provide economic support to formerly incarcerated women debtors, but also change the narrative about their ability to be fully functioning members of society.
Follow more of Hana's work with Narya & Ahara here.