“At first, a lot of people rallied against the ladies’ gym, which is very unconventional here. But soon, the rumours quieted down and women started coming. I was amazed by how much the women and girls of Ma’an were excited about the gym. It’s one of the few outlets for them here, maybe the only one.”
Hiba Ghaith is a pioneer in the field of women’s fitness in the city of Ma’an. At the age of 35, with a growing family of her husband and four children and very limited employment options available to her, Hiba convinced a microfinance institution to give her a 13,000 JD loan with her proposal to open the first certified ladies’ gym in her city. The initiative of the EU and BMZ, implemented by GIZ, contributes to improving the access to finance for hard-working small-business owners like Hiba, thereby supporting growth and employment generation.
Though the presence of a ladies gym in most Jordanian cities has become normative, opening a ladies gym in Ma’an is a challenging task. Hiba’s success with her “My Fitness” gym has been unrivalled in the city. “At first, a lot of people rallied against the ladies’ gym, which is very unconventional here. But soon, the rumours quieted down and women started coming. I was amazed by how much the women and girls of Ma’an were excited about the gym. It’s one of the few outlets for them here, maybe the only one.”
Hiba’s journey with sports started at the age of 14. She played on the basketball team of her school from 8th grade and all throughout high school. After high school, with little finances to support herself, she managed to enrol in university through an athletic scholarship. “Being an athlete helped me get into university and get an education. I played for all the sports teams in university and I competed in all the games. That’s what got me through it.”.
After completing her degree in Computer Science, Hiba faced a lot of challenges in finding a job. Her options were limited in Ma’an as the jobs available to women were either being a teacher or a housewife. She tried to work as a physical education teacher, but her application was rejected. “When I looked around at the level of physical education in the schools in Ma’an, I saw how poor and neglected things were. I wanted to do something about it, but they didn’t accept my application even though I had 15 years experience as an athlete.”
Hiba discussed the idea of opening a gym with her husband for the first time in 2010, but when they looked at the cost of such an endeavour, Hiba soon realised that she needed to put her dream on hold. “When we added up how much it would cost to buy good quality machines and to rent a large space, we realised it was too costly. I didn’t want to compromise on this project. I wanted to open a professional ladies gym in Ma’an, like the ones in Amman, not one of those makeshift gyms in the backroom of a ladies’ salon that were common here.”
In 2014, it was both luck and preparation that led Hiba to take part in a competition of business ideas by one of the leading microfinance companies. She had saved 2,000 JOD by then and was looking for financing from charity and community organisations but without any success. “I was so excited to read the announcement. I couldn’t believe that I was so close to making my dream a reality.” says Hiba. The judges were impressed by her mission to empower the women community in Ma’an. She received a loan of 13,000 JD that she had to pay back over a 3-year period.
From there, Hiba and her husband worked together to make this dream of a ladies gym become reality. They rented a two floor space, bought exercise machines and hired a receptionist and a nutritionist. “The top floor is dedicated for aerobics classes and the lower floor for exercise machines and nutrition consultations.” says Hiba.
Although “My Fitness” offers more facilities than any other gym for women in Ma’an, Hiba still deals with a multitude of requests from her clientele to expand and increase the facilities and classes. Since her opening one and a half years ago, Hiba has also added new activities and classes for young girls and children in the gym to accommodate the needs of the community. For such a nascent endeavour, not yet in it’s second year, the number of enrolled members in the gym is a testimony to her success, reaching 80-90 members per month in summer and 50-60 per month members in winter. “Although I am only making a profit of around 200 JOD per month at the moment because I am still paying back my loan, the women who come here show me that I am succeeding.”
As for her future plans, Hiba has great ambitions. “My dream is to open more branches of ‘My Fitness’ in other cities, such as Shobak, that don’t have gyms for women.” She still needs to develop her new business in Ma’an before embarking on new ones. Yet, she dreams big. “The women who come to the gym have been asking me for a while to add a swimming pool to the gym! Do I think Ma’an is ready for that yet?” She pauses with a smile on her face. “I guess I’m going to find out”.
Author: Natalie Al Shami
Co-interviewer: Ala’a Alhyari
Editors: Armin Satzger, Atilla Kaiser-Yuecel
This article is one in a series of feature stories about the lives and ventures of microfinance clients in Jordan. They are produced under the programme “Promoting Microfinance in the MENA Region” / “Promoting Financial Inclusion through Improved Governance and Outreach of Microfinance in Jordan”. This programme is implemented by GIZ in cooperation with the Central Bank of Jordan, the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, and the Development and Employment Fund as well as with funding by the European Union (EU) and by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The views expressed here can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the EU or BMZ. For more information visit us at: microfinance-mena.org