A Legacy of Empowerment: Promoting Choice
Community Health Initiative alumna raises awareness in expanding groups of Egyptian women by educating young women regarding their personal rights.
One of the results of participation in Legacy’s North Africa Community Health Initiative (CHI) program was the design and implementation of community projects with a lasting impact. Alumna Mary Samir already had a project in mind and her involvement in the CHI program helped her to crystallize her ideas and gave her the confidence she needed to take the challenge. She brought together 76 young women in her first meeting to talk about sexual health, reproductive rights, violence against women, and hygiene. Her program is called: “Because We are Girls”.
With her newly gained knowledge regarding American models for promoting change within a community structure, Mary is helping young Egyptian women dealing with difficult sexual health related issues and family circumstances with a sensitivity to their cultural barriers. She wanted to instill in the girls a sense of empowerment and choice, and offer them ways to respond.
Mary meets with the girls at a local Imbaba (Cairo) church each Sunday, and plans to do so for a total of 8 Sundays. It has been a big step for these girls to speak in “public” and speak about topics related to sex without shame in a group setting.
The first time she met with them, it was 76 girls. The following Sunday, it went up to 115. The third Sunday, 130 came. When Legacy Program Directors visited Mary in Imbaba, her group had grown to approximately 150 teens and young women, ranging from early teens to early 20’s filling most of the small church in a very impoverished section of the city.
She hopes that by working with young teens, as these young women grow into being married with their own children, they will have the skills and knowledge to deal with the issues their daughters may face. Mary is addressing many difficult and personal issues regarding a lack of privacy and personal boundaries. Few of these young women finish their education. Mary’s own mother was married early in an arranged marriage, because she was considered “the most beautiful daughter”, despite her wishes for an education, and while her sisters were able to continue their schooling. She has wanted a different life for her daughter, so with her mother’s help, Mary had to challenge and change things for herself. Now Mary wants to see how she can help do this for other girls.
Plans for Continuation
Initially, Mary had conceived that the project would be an interfaith dialogue, involving Christians and Muslims. But she has found the tensions too high, and the Salifiya influences too great for her to venture in this direction at this time, but hopes to in the future.
Mary spoke with people in her own church, and the pastor at the Imbaba church invited her to come. Within a few weeks, another church in Imbaba invited her to start a group in their church. She hoping to “….develop my skills regarding breaking cultural barriers and learn various methods to urge people to accept change, new ideas and overcome fear and embarrassment.”
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