About 8,000 girls will benefit from a pilot scheme that aims to achieve gender equality in Egypt.
The Noura initiative led by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and backed by the Egyptian government and private and public sector partners, will build the social, health and economic assets of girls aged 10 to 18 through a 40-week intensive programme.
The UNFPA programme has been introduced in countries including Ethiopia, India, Guatemala and Uganda.
The pilot will begin in January and 8,000 trainees and 1,000 mentors are being selected for peer-to-peer support. The girls will be given training sessions on topics including health issues and financial literacy in partnership with NGOs.
Participants will be chosen from 20 villages in Sohag and Assiut in Upper Egypt. The project will be scaled up if funding is available, organisers said.
The Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, the National Council for Women, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development and the government of the Netherlands are the main partners for the project.
“More diversity, more gender equality leads to more well-being and more prosperity,” said Frederika Meijer, the UNFPA Egypt representative, at the launch event during El Gouna Film Festival on Egypt’s Red Sea coast.
“There are around nine million adolescent girls in Egypt,” Ms Meijer said. “Investing in them and allowing them to reach their full potential means investing in the entire population. We must bridge the gender gap and prepare these young girls for the future as active and skilled citizens.”
She pointed to the urgent need for action, citing the World Economic Forum’s 2021 gender gap report that said it will take another 136 years to reach gender equality in the world.
“Hence it is important for the world and for Egypt to invest in girls now, so that they will become women who can reach their full potential and who can achieve gender equality at a faster pace,” Ms Meijer said.
Egypt ranked 129th out of 156 countries in the annual gender gap report, gaining five places from the year before.
There has been improvement, with 27 per cent of Egypt’s parliamentary representatives and 24 per cent of ministers being women, but progress has been slow, the report said.
“Empowering Egyptian women, or empowering women at large, is empowering a nation. And investing in young girls is empowering the future of the nation,” said Maya Morsy, president of the National Council for Women.
Planning Minister Hala El Said highlighted government programmes already in place designed to improve the skills and participation rate of women in the workforce, eliminate illiteracy and promote family planning.
“Fertility decisions that affect adolescent health are grounded in a broad socioeconomic context and underline complex behavioural dynamics, which in turn affect decisions about marriage, childbearing, education and health care,” said Ms El Said.
She highlighted the need to empower adolescent girls, boost self-awareness of their health and economic risks to give them “greater bargaining power and more decision-making power about their future”.
International Co-operation Minister Rania Al Mashat said the focus on adolescent girls was important to support Egypt’s 2030 vision in line with the UN's 17 sustainable development goals.
The Noura initiative addresses the main goal of gender equality, but will also contribute to at least seven other goals, including quality education, no poverty and good health and well-being.
UNFPA signed two agreements with the Sawiris Foundation and the Export Development Bank of Egypt to support the Noura initiative.
The Sawiris Foundation focuses on pressing issues facing marginalised Egyptians such as poverty, unemployment, lack of health services and limited access to quality education.
“We work a lot with girls in their younger years and women, but 10 to 18 is generally an age group that we don’t target and it’s very important for reducing early childhood marriage, preventing female genital mutilation, promoting reproductive health, and so on,” Noura Selim, executive director of the Sawiris Foundation, told The National.