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Girls' Education in Egypt
Education is key to the empowerment of women, and everyone should be able to access it. Egypt is one country that shows that it believes in that statement. There has been excellent progress towards closing the gender gap when it comes to boys’ and girls’ education in Egypt.

Egypt has the largest education system in Africa and it has grown exponentially since the 1990s. In 2012, about 95 percent of children between the ages of six and 18 were enrolled in school. This is a significant difference from another African country, South Africa. In the same year, South Africa had an enrollment rate of around 65 percent for boys and girls of the same age group.

Increased Spending Results in Increased Equality

The government of Egypt has shown more interest in the education system in the past few years and has worked to improve the system, especially for women and girls. Significantly more government funding has been used over the past decades to increase the accessibility of girls’ education in Egypt. A total of 11.1 percent was spent on education in the 2016/17 fiscal year and was projected to rise by nearly 5 percent the following year.

Over the past 20 years, girls’ enrollment in school has risen greatly. According to Egypt Demographic and Health Surveys, as of 2014, 92 percent of girls living in urban areas were attending primary school and 71 percent of girls were attending secondary school. These rates are very similar to the percentage of boys enrolled in the same age groups. This is a significant change because in the past, girls were not given nearly the same opportunity to achieve an education as boys.

While access has generally improved for girls’ education in Egypt, inequalities remain widespread. Girls’ school enrollment has risen significantly over the past few decades, but the problem that remains is the dropout rate. About 71 percent of men completed schooling up to the secondary level, while only 68 percent of girls completed the same grades. This is in part due to the rates of poverty in many areas of Egypt. Another issue with girls’ education is that families with multiple children often send only the boys to school because that is all the family can afford. Girls who stay at home have lower literacy and completion rates.

Local and International Groups Target Girls’ Education in Egypt

In 2001, the National Council on Childhood and Motherhood began a program called the Girls’ Education Initiative. The program was created to address the need for girls’ education in Egypt, especially in its poorest areas. The project urges communities to come together and buy into the project by donating land and volunteering to work in schools. This is a way to bring communities together for a cause they can all support and relate to.

The United States Agency for International Development, along with the government of Egypt, encourage access to education for girls starting at the primary level. In secondary education, USAID very much supports girls’ participation in STEM education. In addition, the government of Egypt, along with other programs and agencies, is working tirelessly to ensure that someday every child, boy or girl, will have access to the same education and the same opportunities.

Together, these groups have shown over the past several decades that they have been able to improve the quality of education for girls and will not stop until every girl can hold up her diploma with pride. There are many other countries struggling to close the education inequality gap and Egypt is a prime example that has shown that it can be done.

– Allisa Rumreich
Photo: Flickr

FGM and educationAccording to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to any procedure that involves “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

There is no health benefit for girls or women and possible medical complications include severe bleeding, cysts, infections, difficulty urinating and issues with childbirth. The practice is especially dangerous because it is rarely performed in a medical setting.

More than 200 million girls and women from 30 different countries have been cut, and UNICEF estimates that 30 million more could be cut in the next 10 years if current trends do not change. The practice is concentrated in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, with a 90 percent prevalence rate in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt.

 

Why is it difficult to stop?

Female genital mutilation is a deeply entrenched cultural practice that is often considered a coming-of-age rite of passage and is therefore performed near the start of puberty. It is believed to make girls cleaner, to improve marriage prospects, to preserve virginity and also has religious undertones. Due to the depth of its cultural significance, it is very difficult to convince practitioners – typically midwives or other locals – to cease the practice.

Those who perform the procedure also have another reason to continue – it is their livelihood. Unless NGOs and anti-FGM organizations can provide an alternative way for them to make a living, practitioners have little incentive to stop.

 

What is the link between FGM and education?

Regarding FGM and education, program advisor for USAID Somalia MaryBeth McKeever said that advocacy should be focused on community education communities. “These communities are composed of parents, students, teachers, school administrators and traditional/religious leaders and each school has one. The CECs have been instrumental in increasing girls’ education and can help girls and women make informed choices on decisions that will impact their health, education and lives,” McKeever said.

The connection between FGM and education is twofold: education and awareness about the practice and its risks and general educational attainment. Teaching young girls and women about the dangers of FGM is a powerful tool in changing public opinion and reversing the trend. However, the importance of overall education may seem less clear.

The International Center for Research on Women published a report on FGM and education that stated that, while more research needs to be done, “emerging evidence illustrates that basic education can be an effective instrument for abandoning the practice of FGM.”

This research shows that women are less likely to have their daughters cut as their level of education rises. In addition, a higher level of education also makes fathers less likely to support FGM.

Education exposes students, male and female, to a variety of competing ideas and concepts and a broader worldview. This allows them to make more informed decisions regarding their own reproductive health and agency.

 

What is being done?

UNICEF’s education initiatives with local governments – such as their support of mobile schools and boarding schools, improved sanitation facilities and better quality curriculums – all contribute to ending the practice of female genital mutilation.

Programs in Egypt aim to introduce information on FGM to medical and nursing schools because the practice is highly medicalized there. Healthcare personnel play a key role in continuing the practice and therefore could play a key role in ending it. School-based interventions across the world focus on integrating information on FGM into compulsory science curriculums.

The Global Women PEACE Foundation, a joint American and Liberian NGO, devised their own curriculum for teachers and administrators to teach them how to have conversations about FGM and reproductive rights with their students. The Tostan Education Program targets the students with a four-part plan that teaches human rights, reproductive health, hygiene and problem-solving. Safe Hands for Girls, an American and Gambian initiative, also implements outreach and advocacy training in schools.

The emphasis on school-based interventions highlights the link between FGM and education, and the important role that schools can play in ending this dangerous practice.

– Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr


The 2015 Global Gender Gap Index declared Egypt as number 136 out of the 145 countries measured, with the country ranked at number 1 having the best gender equality and the 145th country expressing the most disparities. With Egypt among the top ten countries with the largest gender gaps, USAID, U.N. Women and UNICEF are all determined to advocate for women’s empowerment in Egypt.

Women Empower Women

U.N. Women tells the story of an Egyptian woman named Maissan Hassan, who is the program manager for the Women and Memory Forum (WMF). Since 1995, WMF seeks to tell the stories of Arab women without any bias or negative perceptions.

Hassan grew up with her mother telling of the inequalities she experienced regarding her career choice and her inability to choose a husband. Her mother battled these inequalities and became a professor at a university.

Hassan was inspired by her own mother’s life story and wished to document the trials and experiences of other women.

Not only does WMF record both oral and written histories on Arab women, they also establish the Women and Memory Library and Documentation Centre to provide a designated resource center for gender and women’s studies. These stories empower Egyptian women and girls to seek their own dreams and join the battle against gender disparities.

To spread the word and gain female empowerment, WMF and other NGOs held two events in 2014 called “Women’s Rights and the State: Insight into the Egyptian Feminist Movement” and “Revolutionizing Gender Education: Lessons from Egypt.”

Education

Advocacy and education work hand-in-hand to gain women empowerment in Egypt. UNICEF and education officials from Egypt partnered with UNGEI to hold a conference in support of gender equality in Egyptian schools.

As one of the first to gain partnership with UNGEI, Egypt has focused on improving early childhood programs through training teachers and creating a child-centered curriculum since 2006. The conference also identified the value in informing parents and gaining families’ support in equal, quality education to end gendered stereotypes.

With UNICEF financially supporting community schools and UNGEI advocating for a higher female attendance, Egyptian schools began to witness a leveling of the gender gap in 2012. While the primary school enrollment rate was 105 percent male, it was 99 percent female. This ratio proves a near success in the efforts to provide females with education equal to that of males.

Labor

In turn, USAID partnered with the government of Egypt to end restrictions in women’s economic participation. The 2015 Global Gender Gap Index stated that 79 percent of men participate in the labor force, while only 26 percent of females participate.

To address such a disparity, USAID implemented the Strengthening Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development (SEED) project, which aids women with business strategies and guides them toward opening their own businesses. In the encouragement of entrepreneurship, women create more jobs in Egypt and gain leadership roles without needing to battle male hierarchy.

Even further, USAID promotes women empowerment in Egypt by granting scholarships to female undergraduates and graduates in fields related to business, science, and engineering. Since 2014, USAID has given over 600 of these scholarships.

Through the tireless efforts of NPOs, a shift in the role and confidence of women within Egyptian communities has prevailed.

– Brianna White

Photo: Flickr