Despite Egypt making significant progress in school enrolment over the course of the past decade, girls continue to be most at risk for either never enrolling or dropping out. As a consequence of restrictive socio-cultural norms, out-of-school girls in particular are much more likely to have limited mobility, which in turns leads to social isolation, a lack of peer networks, and fewer opportunities to fully participate in public spaces and play a meaningful role in society. Studies have also shown that these girls are at higher risk for early marriage and childbearing, poor health outcomes, and inter-generational poverty. These problems are particularly widespread in Upper Egypt, which contains the five lowest-ranked governorates. Few programs have focused on the specific needs and vulnerabilities of out-of-school adolescent girls.
Identify the community problem/goal to be addressed and what needs to be done.
In spite of national development in school enrolment, health, and livelihood, critical gender gaps in these areas for adolescent girls continue to exist, with those most at risk living in rural Upper Egypt. Studies have indicated that girls who have never enrolled or who have dropped out of school are at higher risk for a great number of factors such as, but not limited to, early marriage and inter-generational poverty. In response to this unmet need, a multi-dimensional program aimed for 12-to-15 year old out-of-school girls was developed in 2001 by the Population Council in collaboration with a number of organizations. Ishraq (meaning “sunrise” in Arabic) is designed to address the needs of these girls in a holistic fashion.
Through its work at an individual level, Ishraq aims to:
- work directly with girls and thereby foster self-awareness and self-confidence
- establish “safe-spaces” to learn and make friends
- improve girls’ functional literacy, cognitive skills, reproductive-health knowledge
- make the girls aware of their rights
- encourage continued schooling
Through a community level:
- change gender norms and community perceptions about girls’ roles in society
- bring girls into public sphere to raise awareness of issues that affect them
Through its work at a governmental level:
- increase local and national policymakers’ support for girl-friendly measures and policies
The focus of the program staff is to support and institutionalize Ishraq by building and maintaining a multi-layered platform that educates and mobilizes communities, creating partnerships between international and local NGO’s and governmental institutions, and strengthening capacities of local facilitators in order to execute the program.
Describe the prioritized groups to benefit and those implementing the intervention.
The prioritized groups to benefit from the intervention are the adolescent out-of-school girls, who face realities such an early marriage and childbearing and limited to no educational opportunities. The Population Council, in partnership with Caritas, the Center for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) and Save the Children designed the Ishraq program.
Assess the level of the problem or goal.
Almost 20 % of Egypt’s 85 million inhabitants are between 10 and 19 years of age, and almost 1 in 3 are between 10 and 24 (Roudi-Fahimi, el Feki, and Tsai 2011). With such large numbers of young people, a major societal and governmental concern is ensuring that the youth can successfully make the transitional to adulthood. Research by the Population council concluded that adolescent girls are at particular risk, with out-of-school girls representing the most underprivileged, disadvantaged, and often overlooked group, with very few programs tending to their needs (UNDP and INPE 2010). More than three times as many girls (11%) as boys (3%) aged 10 to 29 had never attended school, with the vast majority residing in rural Upper Egypt, where the ratio of non-school attendance increases to 5 to 1 (22.1%:4%) (Population Council 2010). 26 percent of girls aged 13 to 19 in rural Upper Egypt had either never attended or dropped out of school after one or two years (Brady et al. 2007).
At a global level, Egypt ranked 125 out of 130 countries on a 2010 World Economic Forum for countries with a rising amount of gender-based disparities in “educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, and political empowerment” (Roudifahimi, El Feki, and Tsai 2011).
Indicate how you will adapt the intervention or "best practice" to fit the needs and context of your community.
As the main decision makers in the lives of adolescent girls are not the girls themselves, the project aimed to educate and mobilize communities about Ishraq and the important issues surrounding girls. Staff members organized orientations and community dialogue with parents, family members and community leaders. Promoters and members of village committees would regularly conduct home visits to discuss and address parental concerns. The class schedules were communicated with participants in order to leave room for their other responsibilities.
An important strategy introduced during the expansion phase of the program was to also involve 13-17 year old boys in CEDPA’s New Visions program, where topics such as gender equality, partnerships with women, civil and human rights, and responsibility were discussed. This helped encourage change at a community level.
Develop an action plan for the intervention.
Ishraq had three major components for girls: literacy, life skills, and sports. Besides choosing program elements from traditional tested programs, Ishraq also chose to go with more innovative ones, picked out from their different partners. From Carita’s “Learn to Be Free” literacy curriculum, the girls would engage in active discussions with the mentors, learn Arabic grammar, vocabulary, and composition, and basic mathematics. From CEDPA’s “New Horizons” life skills curriculum, team building, negotiation, reproductive health, nutrition, among other things were added.
The sports component of Ishraq was innovative, as sports traditionally did not involve girls. At the beginning of this component, a health checkup was conducted to familiarize the girls with public health services and their right to use them. Girls then learned basic physical fitness elements and then moving onto individual and team sports. This component focused not only on physical fitness, but also on mental well-being, social interaction, team work, team spirit, cooperation, and self-confidence.
Another innovative feature of the program was to have the Ishraq’s classes in youth centers, which have become a boys-only space. In order to reclaim centers as a safe space for girls as well, project teams aimed to hold classes in the morning while the boys were at school, in order to reassure parents that the youth center would be a safe space for girls to gather.
In order for a village to be selected, it would have to have a youth center that could accommodate two classrooms, a minimum of 70 eligible out-of-school girls between 12 and 15 years of age, and a buy-in from community leaders including a community contract or verbal commitment between the youth center and the local NGOs.
Besides working with local entities at the governorate and village levels, Ishraq and its partners worked closely with the Egyptian Ministry of Youth, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, and the former Ministry of Family and Population. Collaboration was important for success and sustainability.
Promoters were selected from the communities and were either female secondary school graduates or university graduates. Their roles were to teach and serve as the girls’ advocates, and, being involved with the initiative from the launch of the project, were an important link between the program and the girls and parents.
Each village had four female promoters, two for literacy classes and two for life skills, sports, and financial education classes. They received training beforehand that would sharpen the leadership skills necessary to positively influence community norms.
Recruiting girls at project launch
The program was introduced at youth center meetings, and an orientation was held for girls and their parents. Two groups of 30 girls were selected. Their eligibility included their age range, as project teams wanted to intervene in early adolescence when girls could still (re)integrate into formal schooling and avoid early marriage. After completing the program, the aim was to have the girls sit for the General Authority for Literacy and Adult Education exam, and if they passed, they would be able to enter the formal schooling system. The upper age limit was set at 15, so that girls would have enough time to complete the Ishraq program, sit for the GALAE exam, and enroll in school before the cutoff age of 18. The lower age limit was set at 12, so as not to conflict with other national literacy programs for rural girls ages 6 to 11.
Pilot-test the intervention on a small scale.
From 2001-2003, Ishraq’s pilot phase was set into motion in the Menya governorate of Egypt, one of the most disadvantaged areas (ranked 2nd to last on Egypt’s 27 governates on the Human Development Index). The program accepted 278 girls. After the phase was completed, changes were made to cut down the program from 30 months to 20 months to allow Ishraq graduates to sit for the GALAE exam, obtain their birth certificates if they were missing, and register for school. The shortened program also made it possible for additional cycles of Ishraq, in order to adjust to high demand in the villages.
Promoters’ skills were reinforced, and contracts were created to ensure institutionalization and the commitment of families and communities.
Implement the intervention, and monitor and evaluate the process (e.g., quality of implementation, satisfaction) and outcomes (e.g., attainment of objectives).
The program takes place over the course of 20 months, with classes taking place in the youth centers in the mornings when the boys were at school. The classes are taught by female promoters who deal with different subjects. Below, some of the findings from the impact assessments of the scale-up phase indicate that the program had a remarkable positive effect on participants and communities.
In regards to their social relationships, over 70% of participants reported having more than one non-relative friends vs 44% of those in the comparison group.
Ishraq also had positive effects on participants’ knowledge and attitudes related to reproductive health, marriage and childbearing, With respect to reproductive health, participants were more likely than girls in the comparison group to successfully identify at least one contraceptive method (66% versus 38%), 85% thought that the appropriate age at marriage should be 18 or older (vs. 63 % of non-participants), and were more likely to believe they should have a say in who they marry.
Ishraq also helped develop the girls’ life skills, such as financial literacy, ability to think about and plan for the future, health seeking behavior. Participants were more likely to save money for an emergency (17% compared to 10%) and to know someone to borrow money from in case of emergency (51% compared to 34%). In regards to health seeking behavior, participants were 82% more likely to seek advice from a health professional when sick (compared to 60% non-participants), and more likely to know the location of a health unit (90% vs. 77%). 15% of Ishraq participants reported having played sports in the month prior to the endline survey vs. only 1% of girls in the comparison group.
Ishraq’s structure also made it possible for the girls to broaden their geographical movement and visibility. Attending classes four days a week at the youth center gave girls increased freedom, with 20% of Ishraq graduates reporting visits to the youth center unaccompanied by a family member in the month prior to the endline survey (vs none in comparison group).
At the community level, Ishraq’s efforts have changed traditional attitude and gender norms. Activities such as the graduation ceremonies have provided an opportunity for the girls to demonstrate the knowledge and skills that they acquired through the program. Parents’ attitudes about girls’ rights, roles, and capacities have progressed, as well as appreciation towards girls’ education and mobility. With their newfound knowledge, mothers became more confident in giving more freedom to their daughters more freedom. Male and female relatives now allowed their daughters/sisters to continue on with their formal education and participate in sports. The girls’ improved literacy skills now became a tool for aiding their families, as they could now read doctor’s prescriptions, street names, and signs. Subsequently, greater status in the family lead to greater say in decision-making. Reflecting the positive achievements of Ishraq, the demand for the program at the community level has remained high. Many mothers expressed willingness to enroll their other daughters in the program, and community leaders on the village committees have asked that the program be continued. Others have asked for the program to expand the age limit to include married girls’ and girls’ of older age groups.
The program has increased buy-in from governorate and national-level ministry officials, as the active engagement of governors and committees is important to effective implementation and strong support from other agencies. Institutionalization teams have also started a second round of 50 new Ishraq classes in all Ishraq villages and in new villages (Fayoum, Souhag, and Qena). Indicating government commitment, the Adult Education Agency (AEA) is to provide promoters’ salaries for the first nine months. In an effort to maintain youth centers as safe spaces for girls, promoters have also become more involved in youth centers outside of Ishraq.
Since its launch in 2001, Ishraq has reached thousands of girls, boys, parents, and community leaders in more than 50 village. 81% of girls’ who participated in the Ishraq program and took the national literacy exam passed, with more than half of those girls going on to pursue formal schooling. Ishraq has improved literacy, developed life skills, increased self-confidence, and led to greater mobility and community participation of its girls. The program has succeeded in creating “safe spaces” in traditionally male-dominated areas for adolescent out-of-school girls to learn, play, and socialize.
"My daughter was illiterate and now she is reading poetry in such a fantastic way, I swear I will support her until she completes her education."
---Parent, Souhag Graduation Ceremony
"Who could believe the day would come when we would be able to enter the youth center? We never dared come close because it was for men only. Now we are equal; we have the right to go there."
"For the first time in my life I learned that girls have the same right to education as boys. In the past my understandint was that girls did not need to be educated because they were going to marry."
Contributed by Leah Soweid, American University of Beirut, Intern with the Community Tool Box.