ECWR was founded by 6 women in the Dar El Salaam neighborhood of Cairo in 1996 with the mission of providing direct legal aid to poor women and training them to know and claim their legal and political rights independently. Since then, we’ve added new programs all based on our belief that women’s rights are an essential part of human rights, and the struggle to secure basic freedoms and advance democratic rule cannot be separated from their achievement. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential to creating an informed citizenry capable of promoting and sustaining the social, political and economic development of Egypt. Especially during this time of great potential for change in Egypt, our work to promote women’s involvement in political and public life is essential to ensuring women’s voice in decision-making and defining an agenda for change.
A registered NGO with the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity, ECWR has a Board of Directors, Chaired by Nehad Abul Komsan, that meets regularly to guide the organization’s programmatic and strategic decisions. We maintain our main office in the Hadayak El Maadi section of Cairo, a Legal Aid project office and a field office in North Giza. Our staff of 15 is comprised of trainers, lawyers and social workers, in addition to accountants, administrative and international relations staff. Our methods and achievements have earned us a spot on the World Bank’s World’s 10 Best Development Projects, as well as a diverse collection of over 800 local and 50 regional and international NGO partners and activists in 16 Arab and 10 African countries.
Our work today
Women in Democratic Transition
A project that aims to increase women’s political participation, especially in leadership and decision-making positions, WIDT conducts seminars and meetings with political parties, women’s committees and professional syndicates on the importance of nominating women as candidates and leaders. We reach out to the media to emphasize and explain the necessity of women’s political participation, conduct gender sensitive election monitoring and distribute posters and leaflets encouraging women to vote for candidates based on their platforms. Our Legal Reform for Women component found the current electoral law to be extremely disadvantageous to women, so we drafted our own proposed constitutional amendment to change this and formed an advocacy coalition to support it. The Cadre School component trains women candidates with skills they need for success, and it trains elected women to be better leaders and advance the cause of their women constituents. In the last Local Council elections, 97 out of the 100 women we trained were elected!
Fighting Violence, Cultivating Democratic Culture
This new initiative was designed specifically to respond to the terrifying increase in the systematic use of violence, coercion, intimidation and sexual harassment during the 2005 elections, and the subsequent widespread loss of faith in the democratic process. To reach segments of society too often ignored, ECWR will focus on 6 governorates that experienced the most intense election violence in 2005 with a grassroots civil education program and community mobilization trainings aimed at community organizations. To be based on field research, our civil education will use discussion circles to explore daily applications of concepts such as human and women’s rights, elections as a tool for advancing community interests, activism and citizenship. The training of community organizations will focus on strengthening their independence and awareness of their role in society, as well as their technical and advocacy skills, to help ensure that they will never again be manipulated by candidates’ threats and bribes as they were in 2005. These two initiatives will operate in parallel to help repair Egypt‘s political culture and work towards a future based on an empowered citizenry and an active civil society.
Legal Empowerment and Aid
Like most of our programs, LEA uses a three-level approach to advance women’s rights on the official level, civil society level and grassroots level. This means that in addition to working to change discriminatory laws and conducting advocacy campaigns with decision-makers, we also build the capacity of community organizations and local "multipliers of information" to help raise awareness among women about their rights and how to claim them, as well as provide legal assistance and consultations directly to poor women, helping them take their case to court. We strongly believe in the value of active participation and require all the participants in our projects to take an active role and to pass on the information that they learn to other women so that they become independent and the program’s benefits are duplicated in the future. The LEA project has been a part of advocacy coalitions that have achieved such changes improving the discriminatory Nationality Law and instituting El Khula divorce. Each year, we conduct approximately 24 legal rights trainings, publish simplified information on important laws for women and provide direct assistance to over 6000 women. In the coming year, we wish to expand our legal efforts to more specifically address violence against women committed by both individual and state actors.
Making Egypt’s Streets Safer for Everyone: Campaign Against Sexual Harassment
The only project in Egypt taking on the issue of sexual harassment of women in the streets, our efforts have already gained unprecedented support from the public and the media. The stories we have collected from women about their experiences with harassment confirmed our fears that the worsening of this phenomenon has led to psychological effects as well as a decrease in women’s willingness to go into the streets and participate in political and public life. As we continue our implementation phase, ECWR will tackle the issue on 3 fronts: increasing public awareness with a media and public outreach campaign; advocacy with the Ministry of the Interior for enforcement of laws protecting women and the adoption of a new law; and drafting and advocating with the Ministry of Education for new sensitization curricula for students. Fueled by volunteers, young and old, individual and professional, the campaign has taken on an unprecedented dynamism and reach.
FGM Regional Media Task Force (STREAM Network)
Initiated in 2006 by AIDOS, this new partnership assigns to one NGO from each of 8 African countries: Egypt, Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Senegal, Kenya and Tanzania, the role of communicating information about FGM in its country to the international community and media. This is done via the website www.stopfgmc.org, which serves not only as a bank of information on FGM laws, actors in the field, and history, but also an updated and interactive forum for discussion and information sharing on current topics and activities.
Still in its pilot phase, Nisaa (Women) is ECWR’s response to the lack of empowering and stimulating publications for women in Egypt, which contributes to a lack of self-confidence and passive mindset we often encounter in our work. Nisaa contains articles on all issues facing women from FGM and sexual harassment, to how women can make simple choices to cope with responsibilities at both home and work, how women are portrayed historically in art, how to cultivate real beauty from within by building self-confidence and profiles of women leaders from all fields. Our goal is to transform Nisaa into a professional publication that attracts advertisers and uses revenues to cover costs and distribute free copies to women in poor areas.
Small Initiatives for NGOs and Women
This project uses a model income generation project for poor female heads of household to build the skills of new community organizations. First, ECWR selects 10 newly registered community organizations to participate and provides them with training in how to implement this project as a model for development projects in general. Step by step and on a regular schedule, ECWR helps them put into practice what they learn by overseeing their operation of the project. By the end of the project year, each small NGO has had hands on experience and mentoring in selecting a target group, helping each woman decide on and set up an income generation project, administering small grants, following the women’s progress, writing reports, providing training to the women, keeping financial records, and sustaining the project by searching for donors and writing grant proposals. Although some of the women’s projects work and some don’t, and some NGOs are more successful than others, the project has had a good success rate, including one partner NGO receiving a grant for over 2 million LE!
Arab Women’s Forum
Although the AWF is currently between phases, its website www.awfarab.org is still under operation. The AWF brought together women activists from 16 Arab countries – including for the first time activists from inside Saudi Arabia – for a series of sub-regional trainings and one large annual meeting per year. The first phase focused on building technical skills and in the second phase, participants requested trainings in advocacy. The www.awfarab.org website was established in response to their need for a central resource for legal information on which to base their advocacy campaigns. The site contains laws relevant to women in 22 Arab countries, updates on women’s status, analysis and advocacy tools. Currently the site is only in Arabic but we hope to find a sponsor for adding an English translation soon.
East Africa Four Literacies Partnership
EAFL partners were brought together by Womankind to create a network of different NGOs from Egypt, Somalia, Somaliland, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia to work on addressing women’s needs within a framework of four "literacies": body literacy (focusing on public health and eliminating female genital mutilation), civil literacy (focusing on citizenship and participation in public life), economic literacy and word literacy. It is under the auspices of this partnership that ECWR has been able to carry out our work with community organizations, men and women to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. Although FGM abandonment in Egypt has been slow, we approach the practice from a broader human rights perspective first and then integrate medical and religious arguments. ECWR also maintains the partnership’s website: www.fourliteracies.org, which contains information about the partners’ activities, resources and links.
Our Vision for the Future
As questions about Egypt’s future become increasingly more pressing, the pressure on civil society and illegal restrictions on the human and civil rights of Egypt’s citizens is also reaching a crisis point. As one of Egypt’s most vulnerable groups, yet also one with the strength of numbers, women must play a key role in the transition to democracy in order to secure their constitutional rights to equality and push for increased legal and human rights, and political participation for all.
In the coming months, ECWR will continue our work on women’s political participation and campaigning against issues such as sexual harassment in the streets and FGM using creative means of spreading our messages through the media and in communities. We will also be placing increased focus on using ECWR’s unique expertise by serving as a legal monitoring center to collect data and report on problems women face in: identifying violations of their rights and filing reports, the implementation of laws protecting women, the functioning of the court system and discrimination women face from judges and court officials, and the laws themselves. Using the data we collect and our lawyers’ legal analysis, we will assemble advocacy coalitions and public campaigns to address discriminatory laws and practices and strengthen weaknesses in the legal system.
At the same time, we will monitor the experiences of civil society organizations and activists working for human and women’s rights. Our 22,000 NGOs constantly struggle with poor technical capacity, low efficiency, weak theoretical and legal backgrounds, vulnerability to pressure from outside forces and corruption, and inability to resist violations of their legal rights. To help strengthen our smaller or weaker colleagues and help transform Egypt’s service provision focused NGO sector into community advocates and activists, we will start by systematically documenting the problems they encounter and then joining with them to strategize and advocate for solutions to the roots of the obstacles facing NGOs today.
In addition, with our newly acquired consultative status to the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) we’ll be moving to the next level in our attempts to forge connections between Egyptian civil society and international organizations and mechanisms in order to use the influence of international actors to help Egyptian civil society accomplish our local goals. We have already begun by activating and participating in a coalition of Egyptian women’s organizations to write a shadow report to CEDAW, and training other Egyptian NGOs on engaging with the UN, the Barcelona Process and the Euro-Med agreement, the importance of reports such as the Human Development Report and the Arab Development Report to local advocacy and strategies for using them.
Finally, based on the unexpected success of our volunteer-based campaign against sexual harassment, we will also be focusing on cultivating an activist and volunteer spirit among young people and corporations in Egypt. Our group of youth volunteers now meets weekly to discuss potential projects, activities and priorities, and brainstorm creative ways of tackling issues of concern outside the framework of NGOs and donor funding. And corporate volunteers, such as Nile and Nugoom FM, Masrawy.com, Filbalad.com, Goethe Institute, Netsmart Egypt, and many others, have given a life and professionalism to the campaign that was unmatched in NGO work in Egypt. By connecting people and ideas, and supporting them with our knowledge and experience, ECWR hopes to revitalize not only the efficacy and appeal of our own projects, but to empower volunteers to pursue their own priorities as well.
For more information, to be added to our email distribution list or to volunteer, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (20) 2 2.527.1397.
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