Building Safer Cities for Girls in Cairo

Amina, a 16-year-old girl from Egypt, is learning through her Girls’ Club that she has a voice — and that her voice matters.

”When I first came to the clubs, I thought there would be no change in Khairallah, but I found that many things were changing,” Amina says. “Now, I know the difference between sex and gender. I also learned how to express my opinion, and I have rights that I need to gain. I couldn’t imagine that I would be one of the girls that would speak to the government officials and have a role to change anything, even if it is small.”

Amina is participating in Plan International’s Safer Cities for Girls project, which aims to build safe, accountable and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls. The project provides the opportunity for girls and boys aged 13 to 18 to join girls’ and boys’ clubs based in the communities. At the clubs, girls learn about their rights, practice various activities and participate in community outreach. The project helps to empower girls, allowing them to express their need to feel safe and discuss the barriers and difficulties they face in their daily lives.

“I learned to respect other people’s opinions,” Mona, a 14-year-old girl in the program, says. “Before joining the program, I used to be stubborn and listen to no other opinion except mine. Now, I understand that everyone has his or her own opinion and that we should respect that and listen to them.”

As of now, the project has reached approximately 650 girls and 100 boys. Plan builds girls’ capacities to become active in protecting themselves. The project also creates safe spaces for girls to meet, discuss issues of common interest and carry out initiatives to increase their participation. At the same time, Plan works with government officials, parents and the community at large to increase their awareness of girls’ rights to participation, protection and safe mobility, in addition to promoting an active role in enabling girls to enjoy their rights.

Through the program’s activities, girls are allowed to express their needs and discuss them with government officials. This happens through face-to-face meetings with local and national authorities and has helped increase awareness of girls’ concerns and rights among duty bearers. Many young people have learned through the Champions of Change curriculum, which supports girls and boys in challenging traditional norms in their society that perpetuate gender inequality.

Young men get involved with girls’ and women’s projects in their communities so that they can help to reduce gender-based violence, become caring fathers and connect with other young men to promote gender equality in their families, schools and communities.

At the government level, local officials have asked girls involved in the project to help in detailing the issues they face and to present them to the protection committee. From there, stakeholders can make further decisions and network to take further action on those issues.

“It is our responsibility as government officials to support the girls,” Mr. Shereif, Manager of the Adult Learning Department, says.

“I was afraid in the beginning to speak in front of any official but my friends made me unafraid to speak out,” Amal, a 14-year old girl, says.

“I now realized that my problem will be solved when addressing the responsible government official,”Ahlam, another girl in the program, adds.

Because girls in Cairo aren’t given free time to play, Plan also introduced the Sports for Development approach into the program. Activities started with sports days, then soccer trainings for girls and boys. The soccer trainings included reflection times to discuss different issues such as identity, stereotypes, competitions and collaboration, and dominant masculinity vs. gender equality. The five-day trainings ended with a coed training for boys and girls playing together as one team.

The attitudes of both girls and boys towards one another have changed significantly. Previously, many girls were afraid to interact with boys, but now they play together as one team. On the other hand, boys thought that it was strange for girls to play soccer, but when they played together they started to understand that it is the rights of girls to enjoy playing as they do. Many of them said that they would like to have their sisters join the project activities and learn to play soccer.

“Before joining the soccer training, I could not understand why boys liked to play soccer, but now that I have experienced playing soccer, learning the rules and playing in teams, I enjoyed it very much,” 13-year-old May says. “I hope that one day we can have soccer clubs for girls as well so we can play it and attend regular trainings.”

“After attending the soccer trainings through Safer Cities project, my friend and I formed two teams at school,” Shaheda says. “Each of us led a team of six girls. We taught them the rules of the game and we all played together.”

The girls also had self-defense trainings, which resulted in much excitement. One of the girls was very happy when telling other girls how she used the techniques they learned in defending herself when an older boy grabbed her from the back.

She was smiling when she told the group how he ran away after she reacted.