Egypt’s rapid population increase has forced cities to expand, but growth has, for the most part, come in the form of informal settlements and slums. These areas are densely populated and suffer a severe deprivation of basic human needs including food, safe drinking water, sanitation and electricity.
Istabl Antar and the neighbouring slums of Ezbet Khairallah and Batn el Ba’ara are among Cairo’s poorest. They have no running water and many homes don’t have toilets. Disease and illness are rife. The alleys in these areas are so narrow that an ambulance would struggle to make it through in case of emergency. According to Egypt’s National Research Centre, there is an increase in asthma, allergies and renal failure in people who live in slums, due to the lack of drinking water and poor hygiene. Many struggling families will choose not to send their children to school and will instead put them to work from a young age.
Girls growing up there face multiple health and social problems. In addition to the struggle of daily life, deep-rooted gender dynamics that favour boys mean girls are more likely to be illiterate and are expected to get married early. In many poor parts of Egypt, early marriage is considered a way out of life’s problems. On the streets and at home, girls and young women face violence, sexual harassment and abuse.
Tawasol was founded in 2008 to provide basic quality services to the residents of three slum areas in Cairo: Istabl Antar, Ezbet Khairallah and Batn El Ba’ara.
The organisation works with girls who are not enrolled in the formal education system, as well as their surrounding community. Tawasol helps girls through adolescence via workshops on sexual and reproductive health rights and equips them with ways to deal with gender-based violence and discrimination. It runs vocational training classes to promote young women’s’ economic independence.
The organisation runs a community school offering free education to children of the informal settlements. The school follows the Egyptian government curriculum and incorporates innovative vocational training techniques to teach students specific crafts such as painting, embroidery and crochet. The girls learn these skills to help ensure that they are able to generate an income for themselves and their families and so also increases their chance of being allowed to stay in school and not be forced to return to the streets.
Tawasol also focuses on the development of the students' creative talents with theatre and choir classes. Tawasol's performing arts programme gives girls the opportunity to perform at different events around Cairo where they often receive monetary incentives for the performances.
As well as this they conduct awareness campaigns through lectures and workshops to combat harmful practices deeply embedded in society such as female genital mutilation and sexual harassment.