Ishraq: Bringing Marginalized Rural Girls into Safe Learning Spaces in Upper Egypt
Launched in 2001, Ishraq, which means “sunrise” in Arabic, seeks to improve the educational, health, and social opportunities for vulnerable girls in rural Upper Egypt.
|The Council's Ishraq program provides girls with safe meeting spaces and a second chance for education.
Photo: Nadia Zibani/Population Council
Ishraq, a program for bringing marginalized rural girls into safe learning spaces, seeks to improve the educational, health, and social opportunities for vulnerable girls in rural Upper Egypt (watch a video about the program).
During adolescence, girls in this setting undergo a sharp transition into more restrictive roles and lifestyles. This transition is often accompanied by a narrowing of social, educational, and economic opportunities. That fact was the catalyst for the Ishraq program, an innovative social support and skills-building curriculum for adolescent out-of-school girls aged 12–15 years. The program seeks to delay marriage by encouraging formal school attendance. Ishraq (which means "sunrise" in Arabic) was first launched in August 2001 as a pilot project in four rural communities in El-Minya governorate, enrolling 278 girls aged 13–15 years.
The project adopted a best-practices approach that capitalized on tested and proven-successful curriculums like CEDPA’s New Horizons and New Visions life skills curriculums and CARITAS’s Learn to Be Free literacy curriculum. As a more holistic approach, Ishraq is tailored to respond to the local needs of adolescent girls’ education and health services. What makes Ishraq unique is that it offers adolescent girls the opportunity to play sports and games, an unprecedented intervention in Egypt (Zibani 2004). The Ishraq program is located in youth centers as a way of improving girls’ access to public spaces and visibility in the community. Its curriculum, while aiming to foster entry or re-entry into formal education, emphasizes literacy and life skills with special attention to reproductive health, civic engagement, information on livelihoods, and sports. Ishraq also mobilizes the entire community and helps set the stage for an environment that is conducive and accepting of social change.
Today, eight years later, the successful Ishraq pilot project is currently scaled up and reaching a larger population—1,864 out-of-school girls in 30 new rural communities located in three new governorates: Fayoum, Sohag, and Qena.
The Council's Ishraq program provides girls with safe meeting spaces and a second chance for education. Photo: Nadia Zibani/Population Council
The Ishraq program has five major project objectives:
- To create safe public spaces for girls in their communities where they can gather, make friends, learn, and play as well as lay the foundation for citizenship
- To improve girls’ functional literacy and cognitive skills and foster their continuing schooling; change their knowledge and attitudes about marriage and childbearing; impart knowledge about nutrition, hygiene, and reproductive health; examine attitudes about harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation /cutting (FGM/C); and create awareness of rights
- To positively influence social norms concerning girls’ life opportunities by mobilizing community members to create an environment conducive to girls’ education and empowerment, reducing girls’ social isolation and vulnerability to gender-based violence; developing peer networks; and participating in group and community activities
- To institutionalize the Ishraq model and emphasize girl-friendly spaces in the community/youth centers; to build capacity to provide nonformal education to rural girls by providing technical and managerial capacities in youth centers, intermediary NGOs, and youth directorates
- To promote specific standards of accountability for national-level adoption of girl-friendly policies, measures, and best practices based on sound research and assessment of the impact of the Ishraq intervention
The Ishraq program affects the entire community in different ways.
- Primary target groups
- 1,800 out-of-school girls, ages 12–15 years, in 30 new villages in the three Upper Egyptian governorates of Fayoum, Sohag, and Qena
- 1,500 boys, ages 13–18 years, in the same villages
- 225 project staff at the local level, including youth centers and intermediary NGOs in three governorates
- Secondary target groups
- Parents of adolescent girls, adolescent boys/brothers, and community leaders. (Experience in the pilot phase showed the need to address the concerns of the community in order to create positive change in the lives of the girls)
- Approximately 5,000 community members—parents, brothers, religious leaders, teachers, school administrators, and other community leaders—who will become advocates for girls’ education
- A cadre of leaders and project managers in the National Council of Youth who will assume management of the Ishraq program
In 2001, the core Ishraq partners pooled their expertise to design and implement a program to address the unmet needs of out-of-school adolescent girls in rural Upper Egypt. Targeting girls ages 13–15, Ishraq offered a series of interlocking opportunities: literacy classes, life skills training, and sports classes, as well as a chance to take the government literacy exam and enter or re-enter school (at the first preparatory grade, equivalent to US seventh grade) upon completing the Ishraq program. Girls meet four times a week for three-hour sessions in youth centers. In each village, 60 girls (in two classes of 30 girls each) participate in the 24-month-long program.
Each class activity is led by “promoters,” female high school graduates recruited from the local community and trained as teachers and mentors of participating girls. Promoters become the critical link between girls, their families, and the Ishraq project team. They attend regular training workshops and meetings to support their leadership roles in the program, to discuss ongoing challenges and obstacles facing them in the course of the program, and to improve their own learning capabilities.
To influence existing community norms toward increased education and life opportunities for rural girls, the program also targets important gatekeepers who play a major role in girls’ lives.
Parents support group
Ishraq leaders work carefully with parents and the community to gain permission for girls to participate. Then, at monthly meetings, organizers use a parents’ discussion guide to address attitudes regarding their daughters’ activities, parent-adolescent communication, and other topics relevant to the Ishraq program.
New Visions curriculum for adolescent boys
CEDPA designed and tested an innovative curriculum for adolescent boys called New Visions. Ishraq implements New Visions so that brothers and male neighbors of adolescent girls have the opportunity to learn about gender issues and other matters of interest to them as adolescents. Boys often are able to restrict their sisters’ movements and choices. By educating them on gender equity, human rights, and reproductive health, boys will be better equipped to understand the challenges facing girls in their communities.
Capacity-building workshops for community leaders
Ishraq promoters conduct workshops with committees of community leaders to clarify roles and ensure their active participation in Ishraq. Both before and during the program, these community workshops provide opportunities for local residents to build skills, such as advocacy, communication skills, project planning, implementation, and problem-solving.
Financial literacy component
For the first time, a financial literacy component will be added to the original three Ishraq components (literacy and numeracy, life skills, and sports). The financial literacy classes develop skills and instill values in girls that help them manage their money better. Through the financial education curriculum, girls will learn basic skills related to earning, budgeting, saving, banking/post-office services, and financial negotiations. Financial literacy skills, once acquired, cannot be taken away from the girls. It is planned that financial literacy classes will be implemented after the completion of the life skills component and will last approximately six months. Financial literacy provides the greatest opportunities for the girls to grow into strong, confident, and wise young women.
Another intervention introduced into this new phase of Ishraq is the nutrition program. Girls in the program will receive snacks on days when they attend classes (four times each week, typically in the mornings). The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Task Force Report on achieving the education MDG cites “food for education” as one important approach to attract children to school and improve learning. We believe that supplying free snacks will improve the girls’ nutritional status and encourage program attendance and concentration on their studies.
More widely, to close the gender gap in education in these communities, we plan to offer take-home rations to the girls’ families on a monthly basis. Poor families will then have another incentive to enroll their daughters in the program, as the food will help compensate for any loss from the girls’ labor. For this initiative, the Egypt Food Bank—in close collaboration with the local NGO partners and 30 youth centers—will help the Ishraq program deliver nutritious snacks to 1,800 adolescent girls and take-home rations to their families.
Girls’ literacy and life skills curricula
- Ishraq integrated Caritas’s Learn to Be Free literacy curriculum and CEDPA’s New Horizons life skills program. Learn to Be Free relies on active discussion between teachers (called “promoters”) and participating girls. This technique develops girls’ ability to articulate their thoughts while increasing their knowledge of Arabic, mathematics, and other topics.
- The New Horizons curriculum teaches life skills such as communication, negotiation, decisionmaking, and critical thinking and provides information on health, reproductive health, nutrition, and the environment.
- Ishraq’s sports component is an innovation for traditional rural communities. Introducing the concept of sports for adolescent girls in conservative settings has been a major challenge. For this reason, the sports component of Ishraq began with locally familiar traditional games to introduce girls to the benefits of sports. The sports component was designed to ensure that participating girls acquire skills in a wide range of recreational activities; learn basic health-, nutrition-, and hygiene-related information; and develop attitudes that lead to a sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
On the ground (PDF)
Egypt Today (July)
Publication date: 2013
The Ishraq Program for out-of-school girls: From pilot to scale-up (PDF)
Selim,Mona; Abdel-Tawab,Nahla; El-Sayed,Khaled; Elbadawy,Asmaa; El Kalaawy,Heba
Publication date: 2013
The rise of Egyptian girls (PDF)
Egypt Today (July)
Publication date: 2013
Leveling the playing field: Building girls' sports programs and creating new opportunities (PDF)
Promoting Healthy, Safe, and Productive Transitions to Adulthood Brief (no. 1)
Publication date: 2011
Scaling up asset-building programs for marginalized adolescent girls in socially conservative settings: The Ishraq program in rural Upper Egypt (PDF)
Promoting Healthy, Safe, and Productive Transitions to Adulthood Brief (no. 12)
Publication date: 2011
Ishraq: A second chance program for marginalized rural girls in Upper Egypt (PDF)
Ishraq Newsletter (no. 1, May)
Publication date: 2010
The Ishraq Program: Reshaping gender norms in rural upper Egypt (PDF)
ISSBD Newsletter 52(2): 1-5
Publication date: 2007
Location: Egypt (Upper Egypt)
Poverty, Gender, and Youth
Duration: 1/2001 - ongoing
Population Council researchers:
Centre for Development and Population Activities
National Council for Childhood and Motherhood
Save the Children
Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
The Dickler Family Foundation
The Ford Foundation/Egypt
UK Department for International Development
United Nations Children's Fund/Egypt