Ishraq: Bringing Marginalized Rural Girls into Safe Learning Spaces in Rural Upper Egypt

Since 2001, Ishraq has improved educational, health, and social opportunities for thousands of adolescent girls in rural Upper Egypt.

The Issue

Despite national gains in school enrollment, adolescent girls in Egypt remain at risk for never enrolling in school or dropping out after only one or two years. Girls who are not in school are more vulnerable to early marriage, sexual violence, and poverty. And because of restrictive social and cultural norms, these girls are likely to have limited mobility, to be socially isolated, and to lack peer networks.

These problems are widespread in rural Upper Egypt, where about half of adolescent girls have never been to school. Out-of-school girls in rural Upper Egypt are among the most disadvantaged in Egypt and are often overlooked by development programs.

The Progress

To meet the needs of these girls, the Council developed Ishraq (“Sunrise” in Arabic), a program for out-of-school girls 12–15 years old. Launched in 2001 by the Population Council in collaboration with the Center for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA), Save the Children, Caritas, and local NGOs, Ishraq combines traditional program elements like literacy training, life skills, and nutrition education with more innovative ones like sports and financial education. The program establishes girl-friendly “safe spaces” where girls gather, make friends, and learn from female high school graduates from their communities. The program improves girls’ literacy, cognitive skills, and health-related knowledge and attitudes; encourages continued schooling; and helps build a foundation for girls’ greater mobility and civic involvement. As the program has expanded, a companion program was developed to provide boys with training on gender equity; civil and human rights; and responsibility to self, family, and community.

The Impact

Since its launch in 2001, Ishraq has reached thousands of girls and boys in more than 50 villages, as well as their parents and community leaders. 81% of Ishraq girls who have taken the national literacy exam passed, with more than half of those girls going on to pursue formal schooling. Program participation has improved literacy, developed life skills, increased self-confidence, and led to greater mobility and community participation.

The Ishraq team has mobilized communities to change traditional or restrictive gender norms among parents and community members. It has formed committees at the village, governorate, and national levels to provide ongoing support to institutionalize the program at the local and national levels. It has also coordinated efforts with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and partnered with Egypt’s Ministry of Youth to train teams from the ministry, NGOs, and youth centers to create new Ishraq classes using local resources. The program has created “safe spaces” in traditionally male-dominated areas where adolescent out-of-school girls can learn, play, and socialize.

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