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, the restaurant, named Sabaia VIP, has been doing brisk business in a conservative and congested enclave where some women complain of lacking private and safe leisure venues.

A woman in a kitchen stirring a pot on a stove
Amena Al-Hayek says other restaurants only wanted male chefs. (Reuters: Mohammed Salem)

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],” she said. 

“They said they wanted a male chef, not a female.”

A woman reaches her arm out while another cuts up a cucumber
Palestinian chef Amena Al-Hayek observes staff working at the newly-opened women-only restaurant.(Reuters: Mohammed Salem)
Birds eye view of a person cutting carrots, capsicum, cucumber and tomato
Sabaia VIP employs eight women.(Reuters: Mohammed Salem)

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,” owner Reham Hamouda said. 

Ms Hamouda employs eight women on staff and others who prepare food from their homes.

A woman in a diner carries a tray with bottles of water on it
The restaurant serves light meals like chicken sandwiches and pizza.(Reuters: Mohammed Salem)

That provides much-needed income in Gaza, where unemployment hovers around 50 per cent.

“We proved to the world that we were able to open a restaurant and succeed without a man’s supervision,” Ms Hayek said.