Celebrate Solutions: Empowering Young Girls in Egypt through Youth Centers

By: Madeline Taskier, Strategic Partnerships Associate at Women Deliver

Eygpt.jpgIn Egypt, young girls living in rural areas often do not have the opportunity to attend school. Instead, they help their families and are socially isolated due to conservative gender norms. They often marry young and have little access to public life, as they are confined to the home to raise children and take care of their households. These girls have little access to health care, education, or peers in their communities. To break the cycle of this isolation and enable these girls to reach their full potential, the Population Council launched Ishraq  (meaning “sunrise” in Arabic) in 2001. The program brings adolescent girls from Upper Egypt together in youth centers and provides training to improve their educational, health, and social opportunities.

The Ishraq program grew out of a skills-building program for girls aged 12-15 that are not enrolled in school. It aims to delay marriage by increasing school attendance and literacy through workshops and peer advising. Approximately 1,800 out-of-school girls in 30 villages of three Upper Egyptian governorates participate in the 24-month program. They take literacy classes and improve their knowledge around health topics such as marriage, hygiene, nutrition, reproductive health, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation. Girls have an opportunity to take government literacy exams in order to re-enter school, and to learn to play sports and games as a mode of empowerment.

“Promoters,” Egyptian female high school graduates from the local community, lead the classes and mentor the girls enrolled in the program. They serve as the critical link between the girls, their families, and the surrounding community. Using their own education as an example, they elevate the status of adolescent girls in the communities and demonstrate that girls who are empowered, literate, and social are healthier and more productive members of their communities.

In addition to the girls, 1,500 boys aged 13 to 18 from the same villages attend training workshops on adolescent health and gender norms. Boys in these communities are often able to dictate the limitations of their sister’ daily lives. With education and better dialogue, boys are made aware of the challenges that girls face in their communities, and are then willing and able to advocate for their sisters’ empowerment.

The girls in the Ishraq programs are given a chance to change their lives and enter public life in ways they never have before. The program is powerful because it is holistic: It gives girls a safe space to learn and expand their skills, encourages boys to actively push for girls’ empowerment, and it involves members of rural communities in the process.

Check out this video of the Ishraq program here.

Learn more about Ishraq.

Flickr photo by: Ed Yourdon

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