Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1264, (1 - 7 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Scholarship power

Mai Samih monitors new initiatives for women — scholarships for young women and an NGO guiding rural women about their rights in parliamentary elections

Al-Ahram Weekly

“I remember the day I read the advertisement in the newspaper and how I decided to apply. I remember the whole process, from packing my bags to go to the AUC and packing them again to go to the US,” said Mary Adel, a Higher Education Initiative (HEI) student set to complete a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).

“We all have mixed feelings. We are all excited to start a new phase in life, but we will still miss our families and comfort zones.”

Adel’s remarks were made as part of a speech at a ceremony for undergraduate scholarships for women on 28 July in Cairo. The event was part of the first phase of the US-Egypt Higher Education Initiative.

Adel added that the fact that her colleagues come from different governorates and backgrounds has enriched her experience. “The most important lesson I have learnt is the need to take risks,” she said.

“Since the first day, even as early as the selection phase, we have learnt a lot, including by knowing new people. We had to live at the AUC for a year and deal with different people. Even if we didn’t agree on something, we always found some point to agree on,” said Yara Hazem, an HEI student of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

“This made us independent. I asked myself what I wanted to do, and I chose artificial intelligence. I’m disappointed that this is not much known in Egypt, and I want to come back home after my studies to change this.”

She added, “All of us want to prove that we deserve this opportunity. What I am sure of is that all of us here will achieve our dreams.”

The initiative is part of a $250 million programme that will give high-achieving Egyptian young women the skills they need to better meet the needs of the 21st-century economy. It partners with the government and private sector to improve the relevance of academic programmes to the labour market, and gives thousands of young Egyptian women access to higher education opportunities in Egypt and the United States.

The program supports the education of women and considers it essential to Egypt’s overall economic development. It is therefore imperative that highly-qualified candidates are selected for the scholarship programme.

The initiative will last a number of years and plans to grant scholarships to 1,900 Egyptian women, together with some men, from underserved communities in rural and urban areas so they can attend Egyptian and American universities.

It has five scholarship components and includes 100 MBA scholarships for women to study in the United States; 60 STEM undergraduate scholarships for high-achieving low-income women to study in the United States; 550 local scholarships to a number of Egyptian universities in fields such as agribusiness, engineering, economics, and information technology; at least 50 Fulbright graduate scholarships to study in the US; and more than 1,000 exchange and other study-abroad opportunities for Egyptian students and professionals.

Local scholarships allow economically disadvantaged graduates from state schools to study at Egyptian universities and major in fields demanded by the local economy, including science, engineering and business administration. They will also have the opportunity to study in the United States.

The ceremony was attended by representatives from the US Embassy in Egypt and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, as well as students selected for MBA (53) and STEM (23) scholarships. They students were to begin their studies in the United States in September.

The opening remarks were delivered by Joseph Ghanem, director of the Institute of International Education (IIE) and Scholarships and Training for Egyptian Professionals (STEP); Lamloum Moussa, head of higher education at the Ministry of Education; and Katie Donohoe, director of education at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Our co-ordination began with the scholarships awarded to the young women. I realised their importance and how they were giving our daughters experience and sharpening their skills,” said Moussa.

“My daughter was the first in her class and was given a scholarship to the AUC. This really changed her. We have visited 17 governorates with the team in a short period of time. We have met girls at different educational stages who have excelled at school and have a huge passion for scholarship and have been eager to benefit from the awards.”

“We believe that one of the ways of creating a prosperous future is through educating our youth in the US. We intend to do the same thing with Egyptian youth,” Donohoe said.

Before leaving Egypt to study in the US, the young women attended a six-month university preparation course at the AUC, which included work to upgrade their English-language skills. The scholarships are funded by USAID and local NGOs, including Nahdet Al-Mahrousa.


The women’s vote

On 14 September, the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW), an NGO, launched the Tamkeen (empowerment) project in Fayoum. The project aims to help make the voices of women in the Fayoum governorate heard by decision-makers. Participants will also be more aware of their political rights in the run-up to the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

ADEW is leading the project, in cooperation with the Italian Development Cooperation Organisation, Egyptian-Italian Debt Swap Programme and the Ministry of International Co-operation.

The project, which runs from March 2015 to March 2017, also aims to empower women and their families, not only economically but also socially, legally and scientifically. Some 5,000 rural women will receive identification cards and 600 will be enrolled in legal awareness classes.

According to ADEW statistics, Fayoum has 46 per cent female breadwinners, a high poverty rate of 36 per cent and an unemployment rate of 24 per cent, making its inhabitants vulnerable to extremist ideas.

Attending the Cairo launch were Rafeyella Valentini, on behalf of Italy’s ambassador to Egypt, Maurizio Massari; ADEW Chair Eman Pepars; representative of the Ministry of Cultural Development Howeida Barakat; and coordination manager of the National Council for Population Fatma Al-Zahraa. The event also featured awards given to director Ena’am Mohamed Ali and a young mathematician, Jessica Magdy Gergis.

“The parliamentary election awareness classes are composed of sessions in which women are taught about their rights during elections and given information about the voting system, the number of votes allowed, their rights in running for election and how to do so, and the role of the People’s Assembly,” said Montasser Ibrahim, the ADEW Tamkeen legal awareness programme leader.

The sessions begin with the women identifying subjects they would like to be more informed about and last two to three hours, depending on the topics discussed.

“We target 25 to 35 women per session from the Al-Edwa, Aboul-Seoud and Al-Amereya villages in Fayoum, which are organised in local youth centres or schools so that the women can access them easily. The instructors are specialised lawyers and legal advisors,” Ibrahim said.

“One problem we face is the lack of awareness of male villagers in the places we have started to work, since some of them appear to think that our classes aim at motivating women to get divorced. However, when the husbands attend the first lecture with their wives they no longer have this concern. In fact, they want similar lectures,” he added.

Thus far, ADEW has held 15 classes for women during the first phase of the project. Ibrahim said the legal awareness classes feature sessions on related topics by compiling information about the problems women face and conveying them with suggested solutions put forward by the women concerned to decision-makers.

They also call for the better implementation of the law and its amendment where necessary. There is also a free legal advice service for women held in collaboration with the ministries of health and the interior.

“The only method of developing a society is by encouraging the self-development of its people, especially women. We are trying to train young people and other local NGOs to give these projects a longer life, even after we exit the project,” Pepars said.

“The Italian Cooperation Organisation looks at women’s empowerment as a means of development and is very keen on assisting such areas as Fayoum,” Valentini added.

Among the issues dealt with in the Tamkeen project programmes are collective loans for breadwinning women, illiteracy elimination, vocational training, community organising, education for female school dropouts and awareness raising about the role of women in society.

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