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Egypt: Newsline

Drive to boost girls’ education

©Dana Hazeen/IRIN
Girls in Al Gomhorieh village, Al-Fayyoum Province, at their "girl-friendly" school.

CAIRO, 5 March 2008 (IRIN) - Sahar Zeidan Abdel Wareth, who helps her father on the land, could not attend school until she was 12 when a “girl-friendly” school was built near her home in Assiut Province, some 375km from Cairo.

"I have three sisters and four brothers. My father wanted me to work with him on the land to support the family. When the [school] facilitator told him that education, stationery and health insurance would all be free, he agreed to send me to school," she said.

There are thousands of girls like Sahar in poor areas who do not attend school for numerous reasons, including lack of nearby schools, poverty, child labour, perceived low financial returns from education, traditional perceptions of a girl's role in society, early marriages, and the priority given to boys’ education.

However, thanks to a government and UN-sponsored drive to build over 1,000 “girl-friendly” schools in seven provinces (partly in response to the UN Secretary-General's Initiative on Girls’ Education launched in October 2000), the situation is changing.

© Dana Hazeen/IRIN
The classroom of Al Ghabah "girl-friendly" school in Al-Fayyoum Province.

Task force set up

A task force including representatives from a number of ministries was set up in 2000. "Once the plan was ready, the government allocated 157 million Egyptian pounds [about US$29 million] for its implementation," Moushira Khattab, secretary-general of National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), a government body, told IRIN.

"NCCM took the coordinating role between the partners that included eight UN organisations, led by the UN Children’s Fund [UNICEF], the national task force, a local voluntary taskforce, non-governmental organisations and the private sector," she said.

From 2003-2007 the initiative targeted villages and hamlets in the provinces of Bani Suef, Assiut, Al-Menia, Al-Fayyoum, Sohag, Al-Beihera and Al-Guiza, which had a disparity between boys and girls attending school gender gap of between 5 and 15.7 percent.

The plan was to build 1,047 “girl-friendly” schools and enrol 31,410 girls aged 6-13. About 1,063 schools have so far been built and 27,784 students enrolled. The “girl-friendly” schools also accept boys but their number should not exceed 25 percent of classroom capacity.

©Dana Hazeen/IRIN
"Girl-friendly" schools accept boys but their number should not exceed 25 percent of the classroom total.

Scaling up

In 2008 the initiative started its scale-up phase.

"The first step for us now is to cover the seven governorates, then move to other areas. I believe by 2011 we will be able to cover them [the seven governorates] completely, and by 2015, we hope no Egyptian girl will be out of school,” Moushira said.

Support also came from the private sector: A number of local and international companies operating mainly in the construction, oil and gas industries, have built schools in different areas.

"When private companies came to us to contribute money, we asked them to build a school instead, after providing them with the specifications," said Moushira.

"We built 125 schools in Al-Fayyoum, 38 in Al-Giza and 39 in Al-Menia,” said Salma Zaki, project assistant at Apache, an international oil company that participated in the initiative along with other companies, including CEMEX, Sawiress and Al-Hamza.

“Our role does not stop here. We pay weekly visits to the schools we built and provide them with stationery. We take care of maintenance issues as well,” she told IRIN.


Ronald Sultana, director of the Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Education, who wrote a book on the initiative for UNICEF, said there were still challenges ahead.

“As long as a project is small, people are still very enthusiastic and ready to work without money and with a lot of ownership and commitment. As the project goes now to scale, I wonder if they will keep the spirit,” he told IRIN.

Sultana said that in some cases schools were built too fast before local communities had fully accepted girls’ education. “Some of the people started sleeping at the schools and using the toilets. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it means that people feel comfortable in these buildings, but this is not the purpose for which the schools were built,” he said.

These schools can be replicated in other countries, according to Malak Zaalouk, UNICEF regional education adviser. “At first glance one might feel these schools are needed only in countries that have a wide gender gap in education like Yemen or Sudan. However, there are pockets of poverty where girls are denied their right to go to school even in countries where the gender gap is narrow,” she said.


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