Women in EgyptRecently, five young Egyptian women were sentenced to two years in jail each for violating public morals through videos they uploaded to TikTok. These women in Egypt are influencers on TikTok and Instagram and have over two million followers. Haneen Hossam, a 20-year-old student at Cairo University, uploaded the video. In the video, she encouraged other young women to meet and cultivate friendships with men. Men are able to do this through a sponsored video chat app.

More Inequality Toward Women in Egypt

This repressive verdict is only the most recent in a series of laws and court decisions. Similar to others, it squashes young women’s freedom of expression in Egypt. This is especially done on the internet. More than 40% of Egyptian youths are regular internet users, which opens many doors for communication, education and entertainment. However, the certain punishments of young women for their behavior on the internet do not apply to young men in the same way. For instance, a belly dancer who posted videos on the internet was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for debauchery, and other female singers, artists and dancers have received similar treatment.

Given that gender equality and women’s empowerment are crucial to eradicating global poverty, attacks on women like these by the Egyptian government are especially troubling. In light of these disturbing outcomes for young women in Egypt, it is important to highlight nongovernmental organizations. These are the NGOs that do the important work of fighting for gender equality and empowerment in Egypt. The below organizations work to elevate women’s status in Egyptian society by providing opportunities for economic participation. They also work to address sexual violence and improve access to education.

What is Being Done

Only 26% of Egyptian women participate in the labor force, compared with 79% of men. Women in developing economies that include the economy of Egypt will forge progress in gender equality, economic growth, and poverty eradication.

The Center of Egyptian Family Development operates in Upper Egypt, providing women with economic opportunities. The NGO provides technical training and marketing support for handicraft production offered exclusively to women in this area. The NGO has reached nearly 340 women with its economic initiatives and has seen numerous positive outcomes. Communities are more aware of gender equality issues, women have improved negotiation power, and many women have since become interested in running for local elections.

Women also suffer from lower literacy rates in Egypt at 65% compared to 82% for males. Access to education for women and girls is critical to ensuring their active participation in the workforce and the reduction of poverty. One NGO working to protect access to education is the Association of the Advancement of Education. This organization prioritizes reducing dropout rates for Egyptian girls through researching and influencing education policy.

Based in Cairo, the NGO works with the United Nations as well as the Egyptian Ministry of Education to achieve its goals.

More Help from Organizations

Another enormous obstacle that women in Egypt face is the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence. Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault in Cairo provides a hotline for victims of sexual assault, and also works to combat sexual harassment in public places. This organization steps in to evacuate women from violent situations. It also provides them with legal and medical assistance and operates safe houses as well. The group also believes in the importance of female participation in its cause. It erodes the narrative that women need to be rescued by men. Activist Reem Labib said, “The solution is not just for men to defend us. We, too, have to participate.” Where the Egyptian government and courts fail the women of the country, groups such as OpAntiSH step in.


The NGOs highlighted above are only a few of the myriad organizations working tirelessly toward women’s equality and empowerment in Egypt. They face many barriers like the recent women’s censorship online and the harsh punishments that followed. However, one thing is clear: Egyptian women have demonstrated their refusal to be silent and complicit. As a result, a new generation of young activists yields hope.


Addison Collins
Photo: Care

Education in Egypt
In 2011, tens of thousands of people took to Egypt’s streets to demand economic and political reform. Four years after the revolution, Egypt has seen many changes in leadership and policy. But how much has really changed for the country’s education system?

While Egypt has the largest public education system in the Middle East, it has one of the region’s lowest rates of public funding. Public schools are overcrowded, with classes of up to 100 students. Few schools have funds for suitable playgrounds or music and art programs.

Egyptian schools follow a rigid curriculum enforced by the central government. Since lessons focus solely on memorization, students have no chance to develop critical thinking skills.

Salma Wahba, UNICEF Egypt’s Youth and Adolescent Development Officer, has criticized Egypt’s education system, saying that it does not adequately prepare the country’s youth for the modern job market.

The Cairo Post reports that since the uprisings, Egypt’s youth unemployment rate has reached nearly 29 percent. Students who fail to develop marketable skills will go on to join the ranks of the young unemployed, Wahba says.

One of the main obstacles facing the Egyptian education system is the low wages for teachers. A study by British think tank Chatham House shows that teachers rarely make more than $281 a month.

Teachers are allowed to offer private lessons for additional fees. This leaves many underpaid teachers with little to no incentive to qualitatively teach. Students from poor families cannot afford private tutoring and consequently fall behind.

Although 2012 statistics from the Ministry of Education reported primary school enrollment rates at 93.3 percent, children can often be seen out in the streets during school hours. This discrepancy suggests that teachers frequently misreport student attendance.

The political instability of the past four years has also affected education in Egypt. Textbooks and curriculums that once favored the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak were changed to favor the Muslim Brotherhood. The books then changed again to suit the agenda of current president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Even Egyptian private schools, which cater mostly to middle-class families, are far from well-run.

“Parents are proud to enroll their children in a private school. But it doesn’t mean that the quality is good,” one private school teacher said. He explains that because private schools must maintain prestigious appearances, teachers often inflate grades and make easy exams.

According to the 2013 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report, Egypt had the lowest quality of primary education out of all 148 countries surveyed. The 2014 report showed that Egypt moved up three places in rank, a slight improvement.

But has the education system in Egypt always been this bad?

“The situation is so much worse now. I used to go to a public middle school, a public high school, and a public university. It wasn’t like that 10 years ago,” Mostafa Wafa, a recent Cairo University graduate explained.

Wafa’s observations of worsening school systems inspired him to form Mish Madrasa, an after-school program for children. Wafa focuses his work in Saft al-Laban, a poor Cairo neighborhood where just three public schools serve over 300,000 people.

The initiative provides well-trained teachers to fill in the gaps left by the public school system. For some students, Wafa notes, simply learning to read and write is an accomplishment.

Programs like Mish Madrasa offer a glimmer of hope in areas where government-supported schools have failed. While President Sisi’s administration has acknowledged the need for educational reform, it has implemented minimal concrete measures to date.

Last August, the new Education Minister Mahmoud Abou el-Nasr announced a complete revisal of the school curriculum. It also pledged to hire 30,000 better-qualified teachers and to raise teacher salaries by $140 per month. As of yet little has been done, but many hope that the reforms created in partnership with the European Union will eventually help mend a broken Egyptian education system.

Caitlin Harrison

Sources: BBC, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, Al Jazeera, The Cairo Post, Foreign Policy Magazine

Photo: Wikipedia