Discrimination and violence against women and girls is one of the most systemic and prevalent violations of human rights worldwide. In Egypt, a historically patriarchal society, domestic violence, sexual harassment and female genital mutilation (FGM) are distressingly on the rise. Despite existing state protection laws, women and children, especially those living in poverty and informal settlements, have limited capacity to make their own choices and shield themselves from harm.
Many young women face marginalisation at home – their voice crushed. Their fundamental rights – such as their right to an education – are also disregarded. Gender-based violence often occurs throughout an Egyptian woman’s life, in a variety of different forms, including prenatal sex selection, female infanticide, emotional and physical abuse, restricted access to food and medical care, forced (child) prostitution and murder in the name of honour, amongst other harmful practices. In the cities, the effect that deep-rooted gender discrimination has had is starkly evident. Women living in the slum areas of Cairo battle with their socioeconomic status on an almost daily basis. Even the work of the Zabbaleen (زبالين), the capital’s famed ‘garbage collectors’, is regularly dominated by men – leaving women with little way out.
The Oasis Community Centre – run by our main implementing partner Life Vision – works to tackle discrimination and gender-based violence by changing the set pathway for young women and girls. The centre acts as a safe haven for children and serves to prevent and respond to all forms of physical and sexual exploitation. We believe that by removing the constraints that suppress young women and girls, and by supporting their emotional and social wellbeing, most children will be able to cope with the adversities they experience and go on to play an active role in their society. Our work with individual children adopts a case management approach to ensure children receive suitable and targeted care. Located in Manshiet Nasser, the so-called ‘garbage district’ of Cairo, a team of trained professionals offer one-to-one counselling and group therapy sessions to help young girls speak up about their experiences, deal with abuse and neglect – at home or on the street – and reclaim their rights. To meet the growing need and ensure our work has lasting impact, we train local people to deliver these specialised services. We also develop the skills of certified trainers and psychologists (Training of Trainers) in relation to the specific context so that they are fully aware of the challenges and social restraints that children in the district face.
Though many women and children are forced to stay at home, those who do work face a number of acute threats to their safety. The Zabbaleen drive around the city in carts collecting rubbish and taking it back to their community to sort, recycle or dispose of it – for a very small price. It is often women and children who do the dirty work, spending long hours on the street – only perpetuating feelings of shame and humiliation. We help establish community-owned structures and forums that see community-members come together to protect each other and hear the voices of women. Our activities focus on individual empowerment, awareness-raising and advocacy with the aim to create a dialogue around social taboos and more awareness of the negative outcomes as well as strengthen women’s decision-making power within local institutions. We believe that if all these elements operate at once, then the community can grow and new ideas can begin to replace harmful traditional practices – with women and girls leading the way.
Education is key to what we do. Vocational training – part of our government-approved curriculum – includes sewing, woodworks and computer workshops as well as literacy and numeracy modules designed to help youth and adults gain basic skills and enter the job market. In Egypt, many children cannot read or write and this, alongside abject poverty, regularly prevents them from accessing or staying in the formal education system. “This poses a real threat to the future of our country”, says Mona Wissa, Director at Life Vision. “Our educational programme helps to bridge that gap – and gives children, particularly young girls, a real shot at a brighter future.”
Based on the Aflatoun Life Skills method, our programme also introduces children to various social and emotional topics. We teach them about good morals and harmful stereotypes and practices helping them make informed decisions – many go on to become powerful advocates for change in their community. Life Vision also carries out work with teachers at local nurseries to raise awareness on child rights and common societal risks and teach them how to spot the signs and prevent victimisation. We also offer after-school sessions for parents and caregivers – particularly women – where they practice positive parenting and stress management techniques. These sessions also provide women with a safe space to open up about their own trauma and seek legal aid where necessary. “If there’s one loophole in a child’s support network, that’s all it takes”, says Mona. “The only way we can serve vulnerable children and open up their future is by looking after the important adults in their lives.”
28 July 2020