Attending School = Having Food in Egypt
In June 2015, the European Union funded a project for the World Food Programme (WFP) that encourages 100,000 children in Egypt to attend school.

The four-year project, called Enhancing Access of Children to Education and Fighting Child Labour aims to offer children, especially girls, incentives to pursue education.

Fifteen percent of children in Egypt eventually end up working to help support their families. The WFP’s goal of feeding children in Egypt to boost attendance rates involves providing snacks and take-home rations for children who maintain an 80 percent school attendance rate.

The daily in-school snack, date bars, offers valuable vitamins and minerals for students. For most children, the bars are their first meal of the day. The take-home rations of rice and oil equal the value of what children could earn from a month of work.

By using food incentives, WFP hopes to encourage parents to send children to school instead of out to work. In addition, they hope to break the patriarchal idea where young girls are solely expected to stay home and be married.

“The concept they have is the girl is going to get married and stay home, so if they need to get one of their children educated, they’re going to focus on the boys. With our project, we focus on the girls because we feel we are their chance to get an education,” says Amina Al Korey, communications officer for WFP in Egypt.

The girls get first priority registering for the community schools supported by the WFP and supervised by the Egyptian Ministry of Education. Boys can be admitted but only if spots still remain.

Larry Summers, former World Bank chief economist says, “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”

Girls who attend school will make up to 25 percent more in wages in the future, be healthier and more capable of supporting a family, and could even save malnourished children, simply by being given a secondary education.

Al Korey says, “Whenever I speak to the girls, they’re always just so enthusiastic about actually going to school. They don’t just feel good about getting an education and getting a chance to take a different path.”

WFP also plans to support mothers with income-generating projects, such as breeding goats, making soaps and selling and growing vegetables.

Lubna Alaman, WFP’s representative and county director in Egypt, says, “Through partnerships like this, WFP hopes to make a child’s simplest dream come true.”

At the conclusion of the four-year project, WFP hopes to see more girls excited about pursuing an education and bettering their future.

Kelsey Parrotte

Sources: Takepart, WFP
Photo: Flickr

The Population Council has a history of important and influential research in Egypt. In 1997, the council implemented the Adolescence and Social Change in Egypt survey. In 2009, the Survey of Young People in Egypt reached 15,000 young people from 11,000 households. Most recently, in 2014, 10,000 of the young people from the 2009 survey were interviewed for a second time.

Data from these surveys is critical to evaluate the challenges that Egyptian youth are facing in the transition of life before and after the revolution in Egypt. Additionally, Egypt’s population currently has a high percentage of youth that will determine the future of the country.

Data was gender-disaggregated in order to more clearly understand what kinds of programs can best empower women and girls. Data collected included information on health, education and employment.

The progress and improvements needed in the education sector deserve particular attention and demonstrate the complexity of changes in Egypt.

One of the most exciting advancements in the region is the nearly universal primary school enrollment. In 2014, more than 95% of youth aged 13 to 18 had attended school.

However, further analysis reveals that many youths still do not complete their basic education even if they had attended school for at least some period of time. In addition, there is clear gender inequality related to education. Twenty-one percent of women aged 25 to 34 were illiterate in sharp contrast to eight percent of men in this same age range.

Education quality is a critical factor in addition to education enrollment and regular attendance. Education through route memorization is not likely to provide students with the skills they will need to succeed in life. However, “40 percent of students report teachers ‘always’ only want students to memorize” while only “9 percent report that teachers encourage students to express their opinion.”

Furthermore, quality of basic education is lacking. Among youth who had attended five years of school, 50% cannot read, 50% cannot write and 40% cannot perform basic math.

While Egypt may be headed in the right direction with increased school enrollment, there is an unmet need for high quality education. The youth of Egypt represent the future of the country, and it is possible for the country to prosper if this unmet need is recognized and addressed.

Iliana Lang

Sources: Population Council 1, Population Council 2
Photo: Japan Times

Egypt PovertyDespite protests against inhumane living conditions, extreme poverty, government corruption and leadership, poverty in Alexandria, Egypt is still rising.

Overcrowded housing, bias urban development and limited access to food, water, quality health and education are among the root causes of poverty in Alexandria.

Although poverty rates in large urban cities such as Alexandria and Cairo remain high, it does not compare to the percentage of impoverished people in the rural areas of Egypt, also known as “upper Egypt,” and Egypt as a whole. In recent years, poverty rates in Alexandria have increased by one percent and is currently still rising.

According to the World Fact Book, Alexandria’s total population is approximately 4.4 million compared to Egypt’s total population of 86.9 million. Overall, 25 percent of Egypt’s population is in poverty, compared to 15.3 percent of the urban population of Egypt who live in poverty.

As one of the largest cities in Egypt, second to only Cairo, Alexandria’s urban development has caused an inequality of wealth distribution—the more money spent on development in urban cities, the less money spent on rural Egypt.

Essentially, Egypt’s developmental policies are focused in urban areas causing bias that has prompted a high rate of poverty in upper Egypt.

The agriculture sector represents a large percentage of Egypt’s population. These rural areas are home to 40 percent of the country’s population and about 70 percent of the country’s impoverished people. Focusing development in cities like Alexandria have allowed room for neglect in rural parts of Egypt where poverty remains one of the highest compared to other areas in Egypt.

The uneven distribution of development have caused people from rural parts of Egypt to migrate to urban areas such as Alexandria and Cairo. However, the migration only fuels the cycle of poverty and state of underdevelopment in rural areas. Instead of targeting Egypt’s root of poverty in rural areas, the efforts are being focused on urban development.

The inability to reduce poverty in Egypt is blamed on urban development.

A large difference between poverty in Alexandria and rural areas in upper Egypt is the public infrastructure such as electricity, education, health and water. Explaining poverty rates in Egypt is closely tied to the urban development in the metropolitan areas of Egypt, where a large percentage of Egypt’s manufacturing, trading and major constructions is concentrated.

Aside from urban development, education also impacts high poverty rates. There’s a known link between lack of education and poverty—the less education accessed, the higher the rate of poverty.

According to the World Bank, about 46 percent of Egypt’s poor is illiterate and 40 percent have a basic education, while the remaining population have advanced degrees. Fighting poverty in Egypt is not only about development in rural parts of Egypt, but also about education.

Ultimately, focusing efforts on improving education in Alexandria and redistributing development across Egypt can aid in the fight against poverty.

Nada Sewidan

Sources: CIA World Factbook, Egypt Independent, Save the Children, World Bank

Photo: Flickr

poverty in cairo
Cairo is a city of history and architecture, but the city is also struggling with extreme poverty.

Over 40 percent of Egyptians are living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank, and as war and conflict spread through the area, that number is expected to increase. Poverty in Cairo has forced many families to put off marriage and children, or to put their young children straight to work. Many are stuck in Cairo because they simply can’t afford to live anywhere else or climb the economic ladder.

The unstable government has also contributed to the increase in poverty, but many Egyptians hope to see an established government body in the near future that offers democracy to the public.

According to the Department of Developmental Studies, or DDS, the poverty in Cairo is severely underestimated. In an essay by Sarah Sabry of the DDS, she writes that the “poverty lines are set too low in relation to the costs of the most basic of needs in the city and because census data…under-count the people living in Cairo.”

Like many countries suffering from increasing poverty, the children of the region seem to be hit the hardest. Most children do not have a well-balanced diet, which leads to growth and educational problems in the future. Many children do not attend school or educational programs either because their parents cannot afford it or the children are sent to work during the day.

Greater Cairo has eight informal settlements, and all eight have a large population living below the established poverty line. Education is poor, malnutrition rates are high and health conditions are often unsanitary. Poverty-stricken areas, known as slums, are becoming overcrowded, which causes diseases to easily spread, particularly among young or weak children.

Egypt relies heavily on tourism, which brought in approximately $13 billion in 2010. However, an impoverished Cairo is seeing less tourism and, in turn, less profit.

The future is unpredictable for the Land of the Pharaohs.

– Alaina Grote

Sources: Alarabitya, IRIN News, Sagepub
Photo: Flickr

Rope isolated on white background
Unsurprisingly, women complete the majority of the world’s unpaid work, which is primarily domestic in nature. The largest untapped source of global labor could potentially increase Egypt’s gross domestic product by 34 percent, according to a 2014 World Bank report.  Resulting growth would have the potential to drastically reduce economic inequality around the world.

How can a labor force that would strengthen the global economy remain so underutilized? Women have long faced the cultural and domestic limitations preventing them from prospering in the labor market. Over the past two decades, women’s presence in the workplace dropped by 2 percent. A lack of financial independence and control over one’s own education and family planning can threaten a woman’s job. Women would need more capital, education and networking connections in order to seriously compete with men in the global market.Legally, women face further discrimination. For his wife to work outside the house, 15 governments worldwide require a husband’s permission. Pension guidelines throughout many regions clearly differentiate between genders, resulting in a gap that increases the financial dependency of elderly women.

The kinds of jobs belonging to the women active in the economy are primarily part-time and low-wage. The International Labour Organization has found that the difference in pay between members of both sexes working the same job can range from 10 percent to 30 percent. Women in the workplace are grossly underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In the informal sector, women are often exploited with little or no pay.

The World Bank research suggests that when women work, they form new consumer markets to spend portions of their income which spurs growth. Within a firm, promotion of current female employees cuts the cost of training and advertising for new male candidates. Companies with at least one female board member have proven 26 percent more profitable.

Diversity promotes new perspectives that lead to cost-cutting innovations, which would explain the difference. Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, saw a 35 percent rise in female involvement in the economy since 1990, and decades later, the region’s poverty rate is 30 percent lower than it otherwise would have been.

Encouraging change demands, as the Bank suggests, careful deconstruction of gender-based societal limitations. This means including gender equality education in early school curriculum, providing improved support for working mothers and giving women the same work benefits as men. Although the push for women in the workplace should expect years of future efforts, the financial benefits could be priceless.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: NPR, Tribune, World Bank

Female Genital Mutilation
Soheir Battaa was 13 years old when she was brought to a doctor who would perform a procedure known as “thara,” the cutting of a girl’s external genitalia. Although she did not want the procedure, she knew she had no say in the decision. Her father took her to the doctor, Raslan Fadl Halawa, in a small village northeast of Cairo and requested the procedure for his daughter. Her death was originally reported as a result of an allergic reaction to penicillin.

Battaa died from the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), but her death may bring hope for thousands of other girls. The doctor is being prosecuted by human rights organizations and this is the first time in Egypt’s history that a doctor is standing trial for FGM. He is being accused of practicing FGM, medical negligence and running an illegal clinic. The father also faces charges for requesting the procedure for his daughter. This trial has the chance to create a precedent-setting judgment against FGM.

Since 2008, FGM has been outlawed in Egypt. Egypt’s health minister decree 271 states: “It is prohibited by doctors and members of the nursing staff to make any cut or reform to any natural part of the female reproductive system (circumcision), whether in government or non-governmental hospitals and other places.”

However, the practice is still widespread in the country, especially in rural areas and among uneducated communities. FGM is common in both traditional and religious communities which believe that it is a form of purification and discourages sex before marriage. FGM is supposed to protect the girls’ virtue, that is, until her family marries her off.

Female genital mutilation has long-term negative physical and psychological effects upon a woman’s health. Most girls do not have a choice in deciding whether or not they want the “operation.” It is a practice that stems from the lack of women’s rights and female empowerment in those communities.

The doctor is confident that he will be cleared of his charges because he was simply obeying Battaa’s parents. Although female genital mutilation is banned in Egypt, it is still deeply ingrained in the culture and customs of the country. Battaa’s village mourns her death, but the villagers “quietly defend” the practice that killed one of their own.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Los Angeles Times,  Egypt Independent,  Girls’ Globe
Photo: Wiki Spaces

Syrians have recently become the highest population of refugees on the planet at nearly 2.4 million people strong. The UN has, in fact, labeled the Syrian refugee crisis as “the greatest humanitarian crisis in modern history.” However, media throughout the world is strangely quiet about their monumental struggle.

In nearly every host country that Syrian refugees have been forced to flee into, they have been met with indifference, hatred or open hostility. Many have even chosen to go back to their Syrian homeland despite the overwhelming violence, deciding it best, if die they must, to die in their homeland. The international community has also been negligent to their needs while the aid that is being given lags far behind what the dire situation calls for.

This is only part of their plight, so why is there such silence in the media considering the scale of the issue? A simple reason may be reflective of the refugees’ inability to articulate for themselves; according to Nancy Baron, a UN psychologist who provides mental health to Syrian refugees in Egypt, “the Syrians don’t have a voice.”

Rattled by warfare and hostility in a foreign land, Syrian refugees are doing their best simply to stay alive. Most find it hard to talk about what they have been through, and even if they did want to talk, few (if any) are willing to listen. The international community seems to still be trying to figure out exactly what is going on in Syria. Most are eager for the peace talks scheduled for January 22 to begin both as a respite from the civil warfare as well as for a chance to hear both sides of the story and garner a better picture of the situation.

Furthermore, a great deal of the problem with attaining media coverage involves the lack of proper reportage. This dearth is caused by several issues, not least of which is the difficulty of finding a ‘fixer,’ a person who can provide interviewees, translations and safe passages to areas of interest. Due to this scarcity, many media outlets are forced to use the same fixers, and therefore have less to report, leading to empty and sometimes sensationalized news stories.

Moreover, if international media continues to be reticent in interceding on behalf of the Syrians, media outlets within host countries may become anxious to condemn the new Syrian presence. In Egypt, for example, TV presenters affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood have accused Syrians of undermining their country’s well-being and have threatened violence upon the refugees.

Compelling stories have helped the United States and other countries rally on behalf of refugees in the past. There are stories waiting to be told, stories that need to be told. Hopefully, for the sake of millions of innocent lives, they will be.

– Jordan Schunk

Sources: FIDH, The Interpreter, Reuters
Photo: Religious Action Center

Asian baby
The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of the United Nations and its partners consist of eight goals. Goal number four, Reduce Child Mortality Rates by 2015, has seen some success in the past decade. Children in impoverished countries die every year from things that can easily be prevented by means of vaccination, having mosquito nets, being properly nourished or receiving visits from health care professionals, to name just a few.

For instance, Cambodia has created support groups for breastfeeding mothers. These support groups teach women the importance of exclusive and immediate breastfeeding when the infant is born.  Such groups also teach mothers the negative effects that rise from giving infants contaminated water. Having access to these groups and teaching practices have dramatically reduced child mortality rates in the region.  Breastfeeding is one of the most cost effective things women from poverty stricken countries can do to keep babies nourished through infancy. Cost effective programs like ones in Cambodia have proven effective at reducing child mortality.

In Egypt, 97% of infants and children are immunized against six deadly diseases, which through diarrhea and other sicknesses, cause 40% of deaths among children.  Unfortunately, malnutrition is still a steady problem and children continue to die.

In the last decade malaria mortality rates have seen a 25% reduction globally. However, even with this reduction a child dies every minute from the disease. The distribution and aid for insecticidal mosquito nets is a must in reducing child mortality.

Children with access to health care professionals are usually given a better chance at survival. As an example, Ethiopia has reduced its child mortality rate with this practice.

There are several successes to show the efforts of MDGs. However, there is still a long way to go in order to reach the 2015 deadline. In 2012, alone, 6.6 million children died from these preventable illnesses and many others. Furthermore, most of these children came from developing countries.  Such numbers of deaths should not be acceptable, instead, zero should to be the number attached to child mortality. Aid from many wealthy governments will go a long way in ending the suffering that these 6 million children partake in every year across the globe.

– Amy Robinson

Sources: UNICEF, Child Info
Photo: Foto Stamina

With the lunar calendar entering its ninth month, marked by the crescent moon, Muslims around the world begin fasting rituals in reverence of the holy month of Ramadan. For an entire month—this year Monday July 8th through Wednesday August 7th—the Muslim world spend the daylight hours abstaining from food, water, smoking, swearing, and sex. As part of the Islamic tradition, and one of the five pillars of Islam, the month is reserved as a time for spiritual introspection, self-improvement, and greater devotion to the teachings of Mohammad. Notably, the holiday urges the believer into pursuing the Zakat, or, providing alms for the poor.

A principal tenet of the Ramadan fasting practice, or Sawm, is to inspire empathy for the poor. The ascetic practice of not eating food allows the faster to be able to internalize the plight of those who do not have access to basic foodstuffs.

In the Islamic tradition, the tenet of the Zakat requires all Muslims that are able to give alms to the poor and do their part in eliminating poverty. Simply put, the practice of fasting compels the Muslim world to become philanthropists. The Qu’ran at [17:26-29] instructs, “You shall give the due alms to the relatives, the needy, the poor, and the traveling alien, but do not be excessive, extravagant.”

Hamzi Wanis, an Egyptian Businessman addressed the philanthropic properties of the holiday saying, “the concept of abstaining from eating from sunrise to sunset makes us feel the daily suffering of poor people who really cannot afford food to eat every day as they are poor. It’s the time when we should stand hand-in-hand with poor people and make them smile by offering them food and donating money to them,” The Gulf Times reported.

Despite intense heat and even hotter political turmoil in parts of the Muslim world, the Islamic tradition continues undisturbed.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Global Times, Gulf Today, Progressive Muslim, Just Zakat
Photo: Denver Post

What is Female Genital Mutilation?Practiced in 28 African countries, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

FGM prevalence rates vary widely across countries. In places like Somalia, Egypt and Ethiopia, the prevalence of FGM are as high as 98 percent, whereas in other countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Togo and Senegal, the rate ranges from 25 to 50 percent. It is more accurate to view FGM as practiced by specific ethnic communities.

According to the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (FORWARD), an African Diaspora women’s campaign and support charity based in the UK, immigration and refugee movements due to the numerous civil wars in these underdeveloped regions have spread FGM to other parts of the world, including Canada, the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. FGM also has a history in the Middle East and in Asia, where Bedouin women, Ethiopian Jews and Bohra Muslim communities used to practice FGM, although it is unclear whether or not they still do.

Usually performed by elder women with no medical expertise, FGM is particularly dangerous and can cause serious health problems. The procedure, which rarely includes anesthetics or antiseptic treatment, consists in the ablation of the female genitalia and is mostly carried out using basic non-medical tools such as knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades. Herbal remedies are then applied to the wound to facilitate healing. Depending on the degree of mutilation, complications can include wound infection, psychological trauma, urine retention, severe pain and shock, considerable damage to the reproductive system, uterine, vaginal and pelvic infections, sexual dysfunction, complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and even immediate fatal hemorrhaging.

Generally performed on girls aged from four to ten, there are many reasons explaining the practice of FGM. Sociologically, many ethnic groups believe that preventing sexual desire by removing the female genitalia can guarantee the family’s dignity by avoiding pre-marital sex and adultery. In certain communities, FGM is so widely practiced because many women believe “that FGM is necessary to ensure their acceptance by their community; they are unaware that FGM is not practiced in most of the world.” Indeed, FGM is the heritage of traditional rites of passage to adulthood at the beginning of puberty. Although aware of the risks associated with FGM, many families feel obligated to do it to their girls because they fear social exclusion and rejection by going against traditions that are mainly transmitted by the community’s elders, who are usually the most respected. Finally, FGM is sometimes practiced for religious reasons, although it is not part of the dogma of the three main monotheist religions.

Since its creation in 1983, FORWARD has been fighting to prohibit FGM and avoid unnecessary deaths. Its “End FGM Campaign” has been raising awareness about the issue in the UK and on an international level, with the ultimate goal of banning FGM worldwide. Despite efforts to raise awareness about female excision, it remains an under-stated issue; many people do not even know what FGM is.

Lauren Yeh

Sources: Forward UK, Excision, Parlons-en
Photo: Flickr