Category Archives: Issues: The Girl Child

Empowering Girls & Strengthening Partners, Tamkeen-Style

 

Tamkeen's young women turn their energy on finding positive solutions to challenges in their community.
Tamkeen’s young women turn their energy to finding positive solutions to challenges facing their own communities.

I’m writing to share exciting news about our work with grassroots community groups in Egypt. This is happening through a new phase of Tamkeen, a Coptic Orphans project that works with these groups to empower young women in some of Egypt’s most remote and impoverished villages.

Minya, Assiut, and Sohag, where Tamkeen is working, are home to 760 of Egypt’s poorest 1,000 villages. Young women in these economically stagnant areas are particularly disadvantaged. Furthermore, they’re largely cut out of the civic engagement and decision-making that might yield valuable resources for overcoming the challenges facing them.

It sounds like a bleak picture, but what might surprise you is the potential of the small community development associations in these young women’s villages. These associations, which are thoroughly familiar with the hardships their villages face, are key to achieving Tamkeen’s three goals: Creating an enabling environment for female school-aged youth to participate in their local communities, improving the communication capacities of local associations for networking and media engagement, and increasing the civic engagement of female youth ages 15-23.

We’ve already seen good results from the first phase of Tamkeen, a USAID-funded project, where these associations made it possible for young women to tackle everything from sexual harassment to urban pollution to illiteracy.

Now, Tamkeen has been reaching out to build capacity in several of the associations with whom we’ve partnered most successfully. Through workshops and other forms of training and coaching, Tamkeen coordinators and external consultants are making sure that these associations have the skills they need to take girls’ civic engagement to the next level.

Aida Abo, who heads Tamkeen in Assiut, said that in the period June 23-28 she trained five different local associations in the villages of Dairout Al Sheirf, Dairout, Manfalout, Alkousia, and Bani Shoukr. The trainings included sessions on financial management, project management, administration, measuring results, advocacy training, networking, and the management of funds.

Upcoming trainings will tackle the interrelated topics of denying children their rights to play and enjoyment, and the issue of children contracting illnesses after swimming in local ponds. One proposed solution for addressing these two issues is collaboration with youth centers in the villages of Manfalout and Dairout to build public swimming pools. This would protect children from schistosomiasis, a chronic disease spread by freshwater snails, while also upholding their rights to play and enjoyment.

It’s exciting to see capacity-building well under way, and to see Tamkeen’s girls and young women getting involved in issues that have a real impact on Egyptians’ health and lives!

Stop Killing Little Girls! New Campaign Points to Need for Unity in Fight Against FGM

150127_Resized Demo
Participants in Coptic Orphans’ Valuable Girl Project take part in 2007 march in Assiut in memory of FGM victim Bedor Ahmed.

A new campaign to stop female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt is adding urgency to our efforts to stop this lethal and barbaric practice.

The government is enlisting doctors and judges in a “National FGM Strategy” with the aim of reducing FGM by 10-15% over the next five years.

At a launch event in Cairo on June 14, officials also unveiled a media campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers of FGM, which still affects over 92% of Egyptian women ages 15-49 who have been married.

It’s a great beginning, and now non-governmental organizations have to step up and fill in where there are gaps.

Why is it crucial for civil society to partner with the government on FGM? I recently heard a story that shows how powerful and lasting the anti-FGM message can be when women hear it in their own community. Just this month, a staff member told me, an anti-FGM workshop that Coptic Orphans organized five years ago actually “saved” one of our children from undergoing this horrible, dangerous experience.

The mother of a little girl in our program took her to a doctor who advised carrying out FGM. The mother refused to listen to him, or her neighbors, simply because of what she heard 5 years ago in the workshop. And she’s just one of over 1,500 mothers and daughters who have been in these workshops and conferences that denounce FGM for the crime it is.

In fact, it’s not too strong to call FGM child abuse, and that’s one reason it’s not surprising that we can rely on the Church for support in this fight. Some of our best workshops have been led by abounas.

Imagine being a mother and hearing from a trusted leader of your own community that FGM is wrong. No wonder the mother I was told about chose to protect her daughter from pain and possibly even dying, as has happened to so many girls subjected to FGM.

When I look to the future, here’s what’s exciting. We have more than 400 Church-based volunteers — the “Reps” who are our backbone in Egypt — who keep up the fight against FGM by advising mothers about its dangers.

Furthermore, we know we’re not the only non-governmental organization that can reach mothers and young women with the anti-FGM message. So it’s exciting to think how civil society and the government could really partner in the next few years to stop FGM.

It’s not that an easy victory is coming. We face powerful opposition. Doctors and other medical “professionals” (to use that term loosely) carry out the vast majority of these mutilations. To make money, they keep these old traditions alive.

If only they cared as much about keeping little girls alive.

Regardless, their time is coming, and we’re proud to bring the fight to them. Let’s look at the new government campaign as one more opportunity to bury FGM.

What Do Moms Want? This Mother’s Day, It’s Valuable Daughters

150505_VGP FB
The Valuable Girl Project’s effects reach beyond the girls to their families.

“Can we do anything to make sure the Valuable Girl Project continues?” a group of mothers recently asked us.

The mothers, whose daughters take part in Big Sister-Little Sister mentoring at our site in Sohag, said they’d seen remarkable changes in their girls. They wanted to help keep those changes going.

For Egypt, which doesn’t have (to put it politely) the strongest traditions of women’s empowerment or civil society, this was something striking. The mothers’ offer to help also highlighted something that we don’t talk about much — the wider effects of the Valuable Girl Project.

Most of what we describe to supporters is the project’s core: Meeting young women’s needs for education and skills, nurturing their sense of self-worth, encouraging them to steer clear of harmful traditions such as FGM and early marriage, and offering them safe spaces to interact in an atmosphere of religious tolerance.

But the project’s effects radiate outwards beyond the girls, and no one feels the benefits more strongly than mothers.

For example, we regularly survey participants, who range in age from 7 to 22. Nearly all report that their lives have changed because of the project, citing a greater belief in their own sense of responsibility, discipline, punctuality, self-confidence, and study skills.

What mother doesn’t want her daughter to become more responsible, confident, self-disciplined, and studious? It’s traits like these that the mothers in Sohag said they were noticing in their daughters.

But as important as these personal traits and skills are, the project also has tangible benefits for each family’s bottom line.

For example, any mother who’s struggled with bureaucracy knows the value of having paperwork in order. In places like Egypt, a lack of this stamp or that document can create immovable roadblocks to basic rights and government services. And too often, poverty, discrimination, and other obstacles prevent “our” girls from obtaining a government identity card.

The Valuable Girl Project educates and advocates for young women as they navigate Egypt’s maze of red tape. By the end of their first year of participating in the project, nearly 30% more “Big Sisters” have government identity cards — the key to unlocking significant rights and services.

In other words, mothers of Valuable Girl Project participants can see their daughters grow in maturity, confidence, and skills, while making progress in securing their rights and resources.

That’s a combination of benefits that’s hard to come by in Egyptian society, and one we’re excited to provide through the Valuable Girl Project. And, with Mother’s Day fast approaching, it’s worth remembering that these valuable girls are also valuable daughters.

We salute the strong mothers of our participants, and we’re grateful for their offer to help the Valuable Girl Project keep building and succeeding!