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Monica Dispatch

No one in Manshiet Nasser is saying adieu to ADEW
December 11, 1999

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"I think women are being discriminated against every day," Dr. Iman Bibars told me. Later, she talked about the women that she works with, trying to overcome this discrimination. "We have impacted their lives. We have helped them survive. We haven't created entrepreneurs, but, well, we didn't try to do that anyway." She is talking about the Grameen Bank program, called "gameya" here, which The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW) leads in Manshiet Nasser, a low-income neighborhood in Cairo.

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Taking steps towards social equality
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I visited Manshiet Nasser yesterday, and the conditions of this neighborhood were very different from the slick, car-filled, built-up world of central Cairo. Here the roads were not paved, and donkeys dragged carts through the alleys. Directly across from a juice store, four young boys, playing in the dust-covered stairs over the highway overpass greeted me with a friendly "Es Salaem 'alekum" while I picked my way through the rubble and trash.

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Ashraf
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You wouldn't think that a loan of 100LE (LE= Egyptian pounds) (less than US$30) per month would make a difference, but in this neighborhood, it really does. ADEW started a revolving loan fund of 40,000 L.E. ten years ago. In the gameya system, 3-5 women group together and act as each other's "guarantors," paying back the loan each month with an 18% interest and using the money to create more income. Ashraf, ADEW's accountant, explained it to me: "Say one woman buys a dress (at a wholesale market) for 5 Egyptian pounds. Then, she sells it for 60 Egyptian pounds. Over ten months, she takes something each week (from the pool of funds) and pays it back every month." The example applies to many things: kitchen tools, shoes, cheese, socks, bicycles, butter, vegetables and fruits. In one year, the average loan is 300-500 Egyptian pounds.

Vocabulary Box:

Entrepreneur: A person who organizes, operates and assumes the risk for a business venture.

Elicit: To bring out

Guarantor: A person or group that makes or gives a promise, assurance, or pledge. In this case relating to money.

Founded in 1987 and registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, ADEW responds to women's needs in Egypt, particularly here in Manshiet Nasser. This neighborhood started in the early 1960s when many poor families were evicted from other parts of the city. ADEW "promotes the central philosophy of empowering women in low-income communities by improving their access to credit and providing legal assistance," according to their literature, and they focus on female heads of households. Dr. Bibars says, of these women, "Nobody pays attention to them. They have no access to good-paying jobs, to government services, to legal aid." Through ADEW, they can get around the formal "system" and use the gameya lending program to generate income. Instead of ID cards, ADEW depends on relationships. Ashraf says, "We want to have cooperation with the women. This is the first. We do the program without a guarantor, without an ID card. The guarantee is the group."

ADEW assists in developing and implementing action oriented programs that:
  • Generate employment for women-supported households.
  • Improve the leadership skills of community women.
  • Create awareness of the needs and problems of women-supported households and elicit the support of government officials and private and institutional donors.
  • Establish links between women's private voluntary organizations, local women, donor agencies, private individuals, and banks
  • Assist local organizations in setting up similar programs.
In the ADEW office, ten young women assist the 520 groups of women participating in the micro-lending project. They told me that the most difficult aspect of their job is to "know everything." Before a woman may join, they must fill out a questionnaire with 55 different points. Since many of the women clients are illiterate, the young women from the office, all from this neighborhood, go and visit clients in their homes, meet their families, and establish relationships with them. "It's hard to do it without the questionnaire getting in way," one told me. "The hardest is to speak as a friend, to listen to a story." Fardouz, who's also based in the office, tells me that culturally, it's hard for women to say negative things. "They will sometimes lie, or not tell the truth, so we ask the woman, but we also ask the neighbors too," she says, about the thoroughness of the questionnaire. Another difficulty is when one of the clients of gameya leave the area suddenly, for whatever reason. "They leave the area, there's no address, her guarantors also don't know where she goes," Ashraf explains, of this challenge.

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Fardouz
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In the office
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Fardouz explains what is most important for students to know about projects like ADEW. "We want you to know. You can come here and see. Because everything we study in books is not enough. You have to live with the woman, and see. They're the same women all over the world." She leads me to a room with charts and statistics that show the number of the women clients who are abandoned(9%), divorced(8%), whose husbands are missing(1%) or dead(39%). She continues, "The woman makes jobs without salary, without wages. The job of a woman in the Third World is to get pregnant and make babies," and she frowns, trying to emphasize the injustice. "It's very hard work in the house. Maybe you can do a small business (outside of the house), but the salary is very small. There is no salary in the house." Talking of salaries animates her, and she goes on to express her view on the discrimation between women and men that Dr. Bibars originally spoke of. "There should be the same salary for a woman and a man. It will take a social and cultural change. But, it's hard." Fardouz makes a crushing movement with her hands. "The government pushes down on women."

Relevant links:
Link to Women's Organizations in Egypt

Information on Feminism in Egypt
But ADEW is helping push away the crush of the government. Besides the micro-lending program, ADEW provides training in marketing, budgeting, project promotion, and administration. They also have a legal aid outreach and health care in the form of ob/gyn exams.

Monica

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...worldtrekker@internettreks.org

 

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