A Palestinian woman has realised her dream of becoming a chef in the male-dominated Gaza Strip thanks to a new eatery where she heads an all-female staff looking after an all-female clientele.
Opened last month and offering light meals like chicken sandwiches and pizza, "Sabaia VIP" has been doing brisk business in a conservative and congested enclave where some women complain of lacking private and safe leisure venues.
The chef, Amena Al-Hayek, trained at a hotel restaurant where she worked for free. Although there were openings there for new chefs, she was never considered.
"The administration rejected (me). They said they wanted a male chef, not a female," Hayek told Reuters.
Sabaia means "Lasses" in Arabic, a playful choice of words for a clientele made up of women of all ages – and no men.
"The idea stemmed from our need to have something private, where we can enjoy our independence and our privacy, a place only for women," said the owner, Reham Hamouda.
Hamouda employs eight women on staff and others who prepare food from their homes. That provides much-needed income in Gaza, where unemployment hovers around 50%.
"We proved to the world that we were able to open a restaurant and succeed without a man's supervision," said Hayek.