As Pathfinder’s new Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program launches, we sat down with Dina Kafafi, the Chief of Party for the program. Dina has managed numerous USAID-funded programs that focused on education and economic growth.
Paint a picture for us – what are some of the biggest challenges women and girls are facing in Egypt today?
Women face numerous challenges that may discourage them from entering the workforce; these include harassment, gender-based violence, and early marriage. In 2020, Egypt ranked 134th out of the 153 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index and 140th out of 153 countries in women’s economic participation and opportunity1. Only 18% of the working-age women are participating in the economy, compared to 65% of men. But, Egyptian women represent a significant resource with the potential to change the Egyptian economy. Through programs such as the Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program, we can work to reduce the gender gap by empowering women and girls.
How do we start a program like this? What are the entrance points?
In Egypt, persistent gender inequities place women and girls at significant economic, social, and physical disadvantage. The Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program will improve women’s economic and social empowerment through three focus areas:
- Improving the work environment for women in the private sector economy
- Expanding women’s financial inclusion
- Reducing the socioeconomic impacts of violence against women
We start with government stakeholders. That’s our ‘Phase 1’ of the project. Right now, there are numerous national initiatives in Egypt that are working in the arena of women’s economic empowerment. One of these is “Decent Life,” which is built on a number of pillars that are tied directly to our scope of work with the Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program. These pillars are:
- Improving the standards of living and investing in human capital
- Developing infrastructure
- Raising the quality of human development services
- Economic development
This initiative includes providing families, and women in particular, support on improving their living conditions and generating income. Pathfinder will work to support existing initiatives, like Decent Life, through our core partners, including those in the private sector. We don’t start from scratch or try and duplicate efforts – we work to build on what already exists.
More than this, we don’t approach this work as outsiders. We will work with people that are already leaders in their community, people that have trust. Organizations and individuals. All the work will be linked to people who are there, who are part of the community – otherwise, we won’t make progress.
What makes the Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program different? How will its approaches overcome current barriers?
The Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program will work through our local partners to ensure that we have a holistic approach towards economic empowerment for women. This means addressing a range of barriers, from women not being able to access financial services, to engaging men and community leaders where women live, ensuring that gains they make inside their workplaces aren’t lost outside. We need to meet people where they are at.
For example, we will be incorporating financial inclusion services for women out of post offices. Why? Because post offices are everywhere. Even in the most remote areas, there are post offices. For many women, something like opening a bank account can seem daunting. But by providing trainings, and access to financial services, via the post office, we will create a more inclusive point of access for many women.
The Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program also plans on engaging men and boys, securing them as allies in our interventions. Their inclusion and ownership will be built through community dialogues, activities with their family members, and even sports initiatives that will work to engage adolescents. Providing a safe, fun environment for young men will increase their engagement, and help us mitigate resistance to the initiative.
What would success look like, to you?
Ultimately, I want to see private sector organizations making actual shifts in their policies, and the way they approach their business models in order to be more inclusive for women, and to give women more opportunities for applying to their jobs. I want more opportunities for women across the board, whether it be safe transportation to/from work, more flexible hours, or hassle-free work environments. I want workplaces to develop real initiatives, not just checklists they go through.
Showing advancement and growth in this area is no small task. Building women’s confidence to take steps forward, not having them be afraid that it could impact their home life – this will give women more freedom, and more opportunity.
This is an incredible time for the Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program. This kind of work – economic empowerment – is receiving a lot of attention from the highest level of government, and the private sector is increasingly engaged. Our team is looking forward to building the program and seeing its impacts. Ultimately, want to see visible change!