Life School: advocating for the rights of women in rural Egypt

 

Embrace's Director of Programmes and Partnerships, Jamie Eyre, reports on a visit to Life School in July. This is a project run by the Christian organisation Think and Do in the Minya region of Egypt. The school advocates for the rights of women who have been denied an education as children.

The darkness in a small room is broken by a shaft of light from a single window high up the wall. The room is adjoined by a second small room, a kitchen and a tiny latrine. This modest house is barely 50 square metres and is home to Nesma, her husband, son and two daughters.

Up until last year Nesma was part of a troubling statistic. In her village, close to Minya, Embrace partner Think and Do has established that the illiteracy rate amongst women is more than 50%. The school dropout rate in many parts of Upper Egypt has remained high, particularly among girls.

Rural Egyptian culture is largely male dominated and as a result there is little encouragement for girls to complete their schooling. It is common for families to take their daughters out of school to be married early, with the likelihood of children arriving soon after. Any potential to complete school quickly fades and valuable opportunities for personal development are lost. Entering into marriage so soon in life leaves little time for confidence, life experience and education to take root. The result is a devastatingly low sense of self-worth and, in some cases, cycles of domestic abuse and violence. Without the tools to help them challenge these situations, life is difficult and opportunities are limited.

Against this background Think and Do have set up Life Schools for women in two villages with support from Embrace. These valuable schools provide women between the ages of 15 and 40 the opportunity to gain new skills and become role models for both their daughters and other women throughout the community. Five days a week, the Life School runs classes in literacy and maths, life skills and other areas such as citizenship, health, hygiene and home repairs.

Nesma says:

‘I needed to know that I am equal with men concerning rights and responsibilities. My parents used to treat me and my sisters differently; they cared a lot about my brother and preferred him.

‘I now see myself as a successful woman who could understand her children and raise them up well. Now I can give advice about girls being equal with boys, and encourage my neighbours.’

Over the last year, 90 women have been able to attend Life School. Over the coming year another 90 will start, and refresher training will be provided to Nesma and her fellow students from year one.

No longer constrained by the two small rooms that she calls home Nesma says:

‘I was a reserved character, but after hearing the lesson of ‘Myself and my rights’, I started to learn how to express my opinion and started to change and be a sociable character.’

Programmes like the Life School can help to change the lives of women now and help communities place more value on women and girls, their education and their place alongside men in society. 

This article was taken from the Autumn 2014 edition of the Embrace Magazine - download the latest edition or sign up to receive a free copy.