Front Cover
 Life in a garbage village
 Supporting girls in their transition...
 Increasing the productivity and...
 Nontraditional economic skills...
 Money of their own and pride in...
 Community health care: A "career"...
 Great expectations: Young women...
 The boys' response and negotiating...
 Negotiating continuing autonomy...
 Looking ahead
 Lessons learned
 Back Cover

Group Title: Seeds
Title: Empowering the next generation
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00088788/00001
 Material Information
Title: Empowering the next generation girls of the Maqattam garbage settlement
Series Title: Seeds
Physical Description: 24 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Assaad, Marie
Bruce, Judith
Publisher: Seeds
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: c1997
Subject: Ragpickers -- Egypt -- Cairo   ( lcsh )
Young women -- Economic conditions -- Egypt -- Cairo   ( lcsh )
Young women -- Social conditions -- Egypt -- Cairo   ( lcsh )
Madīnat al-Muqaṭṭam (Cairo, Egypt)   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Egypt
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 24).
Statement of Responsibility: by Marie Assaad and Judith Bruce.
General Note: Caption title.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00088788
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 37337955

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Life in a garbage village
        Page 3
        Page 4
    Supporting girls in their transition to womanhood
        Page 5
        Page 6
    Increasing the productivity and safety of traditional economic activities of girls and women in Maqattam
        Page 7
        Page 8
    Nontraditional economic skills for girls and money of their own
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
    Money of their own and pride in themselves
        Page 12
    Community health care: A "career" for girls
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
    Great expectations: Young women define their future
        Page 16
    The boys' response and negotiating girs' right to work and gaining respect for their time
        Page 17
    Negotiating continuing autonomy for girls as they marry
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
    Looking ahead
        Page 21
    Lessons learned
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
    Back Cover
        Page 25
Full Text

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SEEDS is a pamphlet series developed to meet requests from all over the
world for information about innovative and practical program ideas developed to
address the economic roles and needs of low income women. The pamphlets
are designed as a means to share information and spark new initiatives based on
the positive experiences of projects that are working to help women generate
livelihoods and to improve their economic status. The projects described in this
and other issues of SEEDS have been selected because they have served not
only to strengthen women's productive roles, but also to integrate women into
various sectors of development, both social and economic. All projects docu-
mented in the SEEDS series involve women in decision-making, organize women
locally, and address broader policy issues which affect the economic roles of
These reports are not meant to be prescriptive, since every development
effort will face somewhat different problems and possibilities. Rather, they have
been written to describe the history of an idea and its implementation in the hope
that the lessons learned can be useful in a variety of settings. They are also being
written to bring to the attention of those in decision-making positions the vital
roles that women play not only in the economies of their individual households but
also in the economic life of every nation.

The Population Council provides project direction and
administrative support for SEEDS. Editorial policy is set by the
SEEDS Steering Committee: Sajeda Amin (Population Council),
Judith Bruce (Population Council), Marilyn Carr (UNIFEM), Marty
Chen (Harvard Institute for International Development), Margaret
Clark (The Aspen Institute), Misrak Elias (UNICEF), Nicole
Haberland (The Population Council), Ann Leonard (The Population
Council), Cecilia Lotse (UNICEF), Katharine McKee (Center for
Community Self-Help), Kirsten Moore (Princeton University), Anne
Walker (International Women's Tribune Center), and Mildred
Warner (Cornell University).
This edition of SEEDS is made possible by support of the Ford
Foundation, the Turner Foundation, and the Population Council.
Statements made and views expressed in this publication are solely
the responsibility of the authors and not of any organization
Copyright 1997 SEEDS providing support for SEEDS.

Empowering the Next


Girls of the Maqattam

Garbage Settlement

by Marie Assaad and Judith Bruce

This edition of SEEDS explores the parallel challenge of extending earning opportunities
and access to valued social roles to young women-that is adolescent girls twelve to twenty
years of age living in a highly traditional, marginalized, and impoverished community on the out-
skirts of Cairo, Egypt. Apart from its focus on adolescents, this edition is distinctive in another way
as it underscores the degree to which livelihood programs must confront the social circumstances-
such as health, marriage, and cultural and family traditions-that play a major role in shaping
girls' current and future economic prospects. It follows in a SEEDS series that has not only dealt
with income-generation and livelihood opportunities for adult women but has also detailed the
organizational/institutional/community mechanisms (such as the provision of child care or the
creation of cooperatives) necessary to enable women to overcome social resistance to their con-
trol over their own labor, income, and access to the job market.
To date, proposals to increase adolescent girls' training for or participation in meaningful
livelihoods have been largely absent from the current policy debate over adolescents, which is
often centered narrowly on fertility; and the scarcity of effective income-generation programs for
this age group does not enhance the policy discussion. This edition of SEEDS, therefore, should
be of broad value to those seeking to increase girls'autonomy and, as a result, their well-being in
terms of their future productive and reproductive lives.
Recently, a group of adult leaders of youth programs around the world were asked to list
what they considered to be the most important issues for adolescents.' Forty percent of those

from Africa identified employment as key, yet only four percent of the adolescent programs in that
region indicated that they were directed towards skills training and employment creation. This is
largely because when girls are identified as the subject of gender-specific strategies, the focus is
most often on nonformal education, nutrition, reproductive health, and a search for means to
delay marriage and childbearing. The experience documented here suggests that microenterprise
should be considered more seriously, alongside these other useful interventions, as an entry
point for changing the social terms of reference for adolescent girls. The experience of working as
a team to produce goods for sale and learning how to manage income of their own can impart
important decision-making skills that assist girls not only in negotiating for their livelihoods, but
also for reproductive health and choice over the longer term.
Up until now in Egyptian society, as in many parts of the world, girls-from the point when
their schooling ends to the moment when marriage becomes a socially accepted and legal real-
ity-exist in a social void. However, in the Maqattam garbage settlement (where this story is set),
the situation is changing as a unique intervention has begun to define alternative expectations and
opportunities for adolescent girls, providing them with a bridge between childhood and the onset of
marriage and childbearing. The Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE), the focal
development project operating in the Maqattam community, has singled out young women for
special efforts because program organizers view girls' social and economic development as in-
extricably linked with community betterment. By giving young women the skills and self-esteem
they need to be able to participate more meaningfully in community life, and the labor market,
they are seeding a wider revolution.

Life in a Garbage Village

Maqattam is a settlement of seventeen
thousand people whose livelihoods are directly
or indirectly linked to the collection and sort-
ing of garbage. The garbage settlements of
Cairo-of which Maqattam is the largest-were
established on the outskirts of the city in the
1940s by landless peasants migrating from
Upper Egypt. Here extended family groups
adapted their rural skills to create an urban
livelihood by meeting the metropolis's need
to dispose of ever-increasing amounts of
waste materials. The current Maqattam settle-
ment was founded in the 1970s as, with
Cairo's rapid growth, earlier settlements of
Zabbaleen (garbage collectors) were evicted
from the center city.
Though the site of the garbage collec-
tion villages has shifted over time, the meth-
ods of collection have remained remarkably
consistent for most of the last fifty years. From
just after midnight until the break of dawn, fam-
ily-owned donkey carts moved along routes
allocated to them by middlemen. Traditionally,
adult male members of the family collected the
garbage, bringing younger children (both male

and female) along to sit on the donkey carts
and guard the collected garbage. Today, this
system is undergoing a slow process of mod-
ernization and regulation. In the late 1970s, the
government decreed that donkey carts would
no longer be acceptable for garbage collec-
tion and banned them from the entire city. Ac-
cording to a 1993 survey, 84 percent of gar-
bage-collecting families now use trucks to ser-
vice their collection routes. Some own their
trucks, while others lease vehicles. But many
families continue to use donkey carts "illegally"
in areas that are less well patrolled.
Over the last fifteen years, both the value
placed on garbage removal and the potential
uses of recyclable material have increased. In
the past, the most profitable element of the
sorted garbage was the food, used for raising
animals, and waste paper which could be re-
sold. Very gradually, other items have entered
the list of recyclables for which there is now a
more organized market.
Maqattam today is a substantially more
economically diversified community than it was
in the late 1970s or even in the early 1980s
when almost all families did some garbage
collection and kept pigs as their primary bio-

logical recycling agents. The economy of
Maqattam has modernized, grown (in terms of
economic yield) and, although still concen-
trated on garbage-related activities, diversi-
fied. A 1993 survey found that nearly half of
households continue to collect garbage while
another 15 percent do other productive work
linked to solid waste management.2
When the carts and trucks return to Maq-
attam each day, the garbage is dumped di-
rectly into the center of the family home. Fam-
ily members quickly make crude divisions of
recyclables, separating out paper, glass,
clothes, and bones. This is an overwhelmingly
arduous and unpleasant task that for the most
part belongs to women and girls who spend
many hours every day separating garbage.
Animal bones are set aside to be collected by
middlemen who sell them to make glue; organ-
ic material is fed to the pigs which many fami-
lies still keep. (The majority but not all the fami-
lies in the garbage village are Christian Coptics
who, unlike Muslims, have no religious taboos
against raising and eating pigs.) The sale of
pigs still provides a major portion of the income
of garbage-collecting families.
The next level of recycling is conducted
by enterprises which are often run by other
Maqattam families. For example, some families
recycle plastic by cutting it manually with in-
dustrial scissors and selling it in bulk. Others
families wash and sort plastic bags by color and
density before sending them to the plastic
shredders, or they package and bale little bits
of paper and flatten and tie up cardboard in
bunches for resale.
Beginning in the early 1980s, the Zab-
baleen settlement of Maqattam became the
focus of a large-scale community upgrading
initiative. This included support received under
the First Egypt Urban Development Project, for-
mulated in 1976 by the Egyptian government
and the World Bank. Inclusion of the Maqattam
settlement in the upgrading scheme was largely
the result of advocacy on the part of Environ-
mental Quality International (EQI), an Egyptian
consulting firm specializing in solid waste man-
agement and urban development. Directed by
Dr. Mounir Nenatalla, EQI's development pro-
fessionals have carried out in-depth studies of
both living conditions and economic prospects
of the Maqattam community over a 15 year pe-

riod. Many of the interpretations and figures re-
ported in this edition of SEEDS emanate from
EQI's baseline and intervention studies.
Development work in Maqattam has al-
ways been characterized by a high degree of
collaboration. In terms of funding, various up-
grading and social development schemes
have been supported by: the World Bank, the
Ford Foundation, Oxfam, Catholic Relief Ser-
vices, the Soeur Emmanuel Fund, and the Eu-
ropean Community.
In 1984, the APE was officially registered
with the Ministry of Social Affairs as a nongov-
ernmental organization responsible for man-
aging a composting plant in Maqattam and
initiating various social development activities
in the community. The APE's board members
are selected for their expertise (in areas such
as finance, social development, and environ-
mental sciences) as well as their concern for
the citizens of Maqattam. Over the years, the
number of volunteers and staff who work in
the Maqattam development scheme has in-
In 1987, the APE board authorized the
creation of a human development component
within the organization to carry out a variety of
aims stipulated in the APE's constitution. Many
of the activities reported here are currently man-
aged by the Health and Development Commit-
tee (officially constituted as an APE subcom-
mittee in 1990), which coordinates activities in
the areas of health, functional literacy, and in-
The project's founders-professionals
with skills in environmental sanitation as well
as economic and social development-were
motivated by two main goals. First, they were
seeking to relieve the unhealthy and socially
degrading living circumstances of the
Maqattam residents. Second, drawing on the
potential wealth that the garbage of sixteen
million Cairenes might generate, they sought
to assist the Zabbaleen to achieve higher pro-
ductivity from the traditional recycling process.
The APE has been very successful in reaching
a high proportion of households overall. Today,
70 percent of garbage collecting households
are engaged in one or more activities sponsored
by the APE and its affiliate organizations, and a
third of all households are directly benefiting
from APE-supported activities.

Supporting Girls in Their
Transition to Womanhood
From the beginning, development efforts
in Maqattam have given an unusual degree of
attention to young people. Indeed, "the social
condition of sons and daughters of garbage
collectors" was identified as an important tar-
get in the APE's original charter. Though boys
and girls are both afforded new learning op-
portunities, the most innovative efforts have
been those directed at the girls. Improving the
degraded status and tapping the latent capac-
ity of these young women continues to be a
major challenge for the organization.
Close to half of all Maqattam households
(garbage collecting and non-garbage collect-
ing alike) have a girl in the household between
the ages of twelve and twenty. Laila Kamel, a
leader of the APE's rug weaving and patch-
work project established for girls, and currently
the president of the APE, observes: "Unmar-
ried daughters are constantly under surveil-
lance by their brothers' wives to make sure they
do not escape in sharing in the household pro-
duction activities, whether they are sorting
garbage manually, feeding the pigs, heading
the household chores, caring for siblings, or
fetching water. In general they are shoulder-
ing the heavy burden of daily living in an ur-

ban slum in Cairo that operates like a typical
village in Upper Egypt."4
Kamel's observation is important be-
cause, though the residents of Maqattam are
nominally urban, their notions of appropriate
behavior for girls are definitively conservative
and rural. This conservatism, combined with
the poverty and low social standing of garbage
collectors within Egyptian society, serves to
make the girls of Maqattam among the most
vulnerable groups in Cairo.
As is still the case in rural Upper Egypt,
as girls in Maqattam approach menarche their
emerging sexual capacity poses a significant
risk, both to them as individuals and to their
family's status within the community; therefore,
their behavior comes under much closer scru-
tiny.5 In many cases they now face greater re-
straints than their younger sisters in terms of
mobility and accepted behavior. This relative
social confinement, however, does not dimin-
ish the demands for their labor. Adolescent
girls still make vital and often physically oner-
ous economic contributions to their families
every day.
Therefore, it is not surprising that many
Maqattam girls complain of constant head-
aches, fatigue, and dizziness. A study of sixty
randomly selected girls showed that 50 to 60

percent had below-average hemoglobin lev-
els, and that many also suffered from para-
sitic disease and infections.6 Given these
health profiles, combined with their low so-
cial status and high productivity roles, the APE
sought ways to provide support for these girls
while, at the same time, capturing their labor
for the girls' own benefit, as well as that of
their families.
Though universal schooling to age fifteen
has been mandated for some time in Egypt,
1995-96 figures indicate that only 85 percent
of girls of primary school age (6-10) in urban
areas and 76 percent in rural areas actually
attend classes.7 In 1993, only 56 percent of
girls age six to nineteen in Maqattam had been
enrolled in school at one time or another and
of these 70 percent were still in school while
27 percent had dropped out. Only 1.5 percent
of girls had obtained a secondary school cer-
tificate or equivalent degree.
The propensity of children to be enrolled
in school is linked both to their gender and to
the work requirements of their families. Among
the Zabbaleen, 44 percent of children six to
eleven are defined as "working," as compared
to 11 percent of children in all greater Cairo
households; 22 percent of all children in the
community reportedly combine work and
schooling. At older ages, school participation
falls dramatically while, for most, work increases.
Among youngsters age twelve to fourteen, 66
percent of boys and 59 percent of girls are clas-
sified as working; 88 percent of Maqattam's
working girls identify their economic activity as
garbage collection and sorting. Given the rigid-
ity and limits of the formal schooling system,
the only route to literacy and numeracy for these
out-of-school youth must come through com-
munity-based literacy programs sponsored by
nongovernmental organizations.8
In addition to the pressure to work-par-
ticularly intense for girls in garbage-collecting
families-the pressure to marry off girls early
also limits their schooling. As girls approach
menarche, their social acceptability and mar-
riageability, rather than their skills or rights,
dominate family concerns. In Maqattam, as in
much of Egypt, a respected womanly identity
is conferred almost exclusively through mar-
riage. Though the legal age for marriage in
Egypt remains at sixteen, there is evidence that

substantial numbers of girls are married be-
fore this age, often with the connivance of the
girl's family, the authorities, lawyers, doctors,
and religious figures who approve the marriage
despite knowing that the girl is underage. The
traditional value placed on virginity is reflected
in a variety of customary practices: "virginity
tests" can entail a young bride being manu-
ally probed by a midwife or the even more trau-
matic public display of a bloodied sheet on
her wedding night.
Not only is underage marriage a viola-
tion of girls' human rights, it has long-term
negative effects on their physical and emo-
tional wellbeing. The quality of a girl's marriage
will influence both her dignity and her au-
tonomy within that marriage, including her abil-
ity to work outside the home and make subse-
quent reproductive choices. In some cases-
given the young age at which childbearing be-
gins-the girls also face elevated reproduc-
tive risk. In addition, the younger the girl at
marriage, the greater the possibility that she is
being married to someone she has not cho-
sen and someone who is potentially much
older. (The median age differential in some
communities is as high as seven to ten years.)
In rural Egypt, the transition from girlhood
to womanhood traditionally has been brief and
full of restrictions and hardships. To change
this reality for the girls in Maqattam and other
such communities obviously requires more
than a single intervention-but what is the first
The earliest social development efforts in
Maqattam were initiated by Soeur Emmanuelle,
who founded a primary school, and Father
Saman, who built a Coptic church which
served as a center for social welfare activities.
In the early 1980s, another school was built as
part of a World Bank upgrading project, and a
children's library and other services were
added by the Integrated Care Society under
the auspices of Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the
Egyptian president. But despite the availabil-
ity of schooling in the community, many girls
were-and still are-withheld from enrollment
or are removed from school to fulfill an eco-
nomic role within their families. The APE, there-
fore, understood that increasing the prospects
of young girls and preparing them for produc-
tive adulthood would require more than their

participation in formal schooling. As a result, it
has adopted a holistic approach that seeks to
give the girls a distinct and proud social iden-
tity while, at the same time, preparing them for
productive livelihoods.

Increasing the Productivity
and Safety of Traditional
Economic Activities of Girls
and Women in Maqattam

Girls and women in Egypt's garbage col-
lecting communities make all the usual tradi-
tional female contributions to family life: prepa-
ration of food, cleaning, maintenance of the
household, providing care and nurturing for the
dependent young and old, offering rudimen-
tary health care, and, even in this nominally
urban environment, food production. Most
households keep goats, pigs, and chickens
(vital additions to their poor diet), and these
animals are all under the supervision of the
women. In addition to these already demand-
ing household responsibilities, women and
girls in Maqattam are also in charge of most of
the family's postgarbage collection tasks, from
sorting waste materials to pig-keeping.

As noted earlier, every day the collected
garbage is dumped and sorted in the midst of
the family home where, in many cases, the fam-
ily also eats, sleeps, and keeps animals. (In re-
cent years, an increasing proportion of house-
holds have been able to separate their sleep-
ing and food preparation areas.) The garbage
sorting, which typically absorbs four to six hours
a day, is split into two sessions: a longer one
after the main morning collection (from 5:00 AM
to 9:00 AM) and a shorter evening sorting (any-
time from 4:00 PM to 1:00 AM). The work is carried
out in bare feet and garbage is sorted with bare
hands. (Despite the recent availability of gloves,
most girls and women still eschew them because
they feel the gloves slow their work.)
Working knee-deep in garbage, the wom-
en and girls must sort the vast volume quickly
in order to leave the home free for other family
activities. Potential food for the pigs and other
animals must be separated as rapidly as pos-
sible because the Zabbaleen believe that if it
rests too long within the undifferentiated refuse,
it will become contaminated or lose some of
its food value. Girls and women carry the sepa-
rated food in large metal tubs to the back of
the house where the family pigsty is located.
The pigs, excellent recyclers themselves, turn

the food into rich manure, and their value
should not be underestimated. In a 1993 study,
it was found that pig-keeping families averaged
2,700 Egyptian pounds (US $818) per year in
income from the sale of pigs alone. Thus for
many families, pig-keeping remains their larg-
est source of income.
EQI's baseline economic analyses, con-
ducted between 1981 and 1983, revealed that
much of the garbage collection, sorting, and
recycling processes was not only inefficient,
but incurred unnecessary and severe health
risks. As a result, a sequence of varied inter-
ventions-some large, some small-that deal
with different phases in the garbage collection
and recycling processes have been carried
out. The goal has been to make the process-
ing of garbage safer and more efficient while,
at the same time, increasing the rate of eco-
nomic return to the community.9
The composting plant, which was com-
pleted in the early 1980s, was the first in a se-
ries of small economic revolutions that are still
underway in Maqattam. Pig manure-which
was previously left at the edge of the houses
to be carted away by merchants-is now taken
directly to the community compost plant where
it is turned into fertilizer, thus becoming a vital
source of income for the community. Every

year, since 1988, the total cubic metric ton-
nage of compost produced and resold has
steadily increased. In 1994, in excess of 34,000
Egyptian pounds (approximately US $10,000)
was realized on compost sales. In 1996, sales
rose to 50,900 pounds (US $15,000). In addi-
tion to covering the operating costs of the plant,
this money provides a modest profit which is
used to support the staff responsible for over-
seeing the APE's social development compo-
nents (functional literacy, health, and income-
generating initiatives).
It is likely that the value of the composting
plant and related recycling activities in
Maqattam will continue to grow over the com-
ing years. Currently, Maqattam processes 30
percent of greater Cairo's ever-increasing sup-
ply of household garbage. With improved re-
cycling techniques, it is estimated that as much
as 90 percent of this refuse can be put to some
economically valuable reuse.
However, at the same time, modern pack-
aging as well as the types of products now
discarded with household waste have not only
increased the amount of garbage, but also
created additional health risks for the Zabba-
leen. Garbage today may contain cadmium,
lead, and other heavy metals emanating from
batteries and some plastic products as well

as fungicides and metal parts. Mixed with or-
ganic garbage, these elements create a cross-
contamination which even swift sorting can-
not eliminate. Further, disposal of an increas-
ing amount of dangerous material (e.g., bro-
ken glass) has made injuries among the
Zabbaleen more common.
For this reason, a pilot project to separate
garbage "at its source" has been undertaken.
Currently operating in two middle income Cairo
neighborhoods, Manial and Deir-el-Malak, over
five hundred families now separate their organic
(wet) and inorganic (dry) garbage before it is
collected. Residents are encouraged to partici-
pate by young educated garbage collectors
who hold monthly meetings and go door-to-
door to solicit community support. This simple
measure has resulted in a decrease by more
than half of the number of hours required to
sort the garbage, thus freeing Maqattam's girls
and women to spend their time in other income-
generating and training activities.
Family health, as well as the health of the
garbage sorters themselves, has also im-
proved. Now there are fewer wounds caused
by sharp objects and a substantial reduction
in the percentage of heavy metal being mea-
sured in the organic compost. Separation at

the source also improves the quality of organic
waste which means that the pigs grow at a
faster rate and are more resistant to disease.
There is hope that this "separation at the
source" project will be extended to other parts
of Cairo.
Both the composting plant and the sepa-
ration at the source project are examples of
community-wide innovations which not only
bring general benefits to the community but
also bring special benefits to girls within the
context of their traditional roles. However, com-
munity efforts to improve girls' livelihoods do
not end there; specific efforts have been de-
signed to introduce new skills, new social iden-
tifies, and new income-generating opportuni-
ties for adolescent girls.

Nontraditional Economic
Skills for Girls and Money of
Their Own

The first livelihood project established for
girls in Maqattam was rug weaving. Begun in
1987, the project has two related objectives:
first, adding to girls' economic skills and per-
sonal income and, second, finding a way to
release them, even temporarily, from the con-

fines of their households and the squalor of
sorting garbage by hand. Laila Kamel, the vol-
unteer manager of the rug-weaving project re-
flects that "with their eyes focused on a heap
of rotting food for a good few hours each day,
their world view was one that needed an infu-
sion of color, cleanliness, and hope."10
To ensure that the neediest girls would
be the first members of the rug-weaving co-
operative, a set of evocative questions were
devised. First, the girls were asked, "Do you
still go out on a garbage route?" If they did,
particularly those past puberty, it was an indi-
cator of a high degree of poverty because, by
the time the project was established, it had be-
come illegal to bring donkey carts into the city
and this prohibition was enforced through fines
and harassment. So, girls who accompanied
their fathers on the donkey carts were put into
the position of facing arrests and fines, not to
mention distasteful and risky contact with
strangers. Girls were also asked, "Do you go
out on the streets of Cairo on foot with a sack
to forage for plastic in the big municipal bins?"
This is considered the "ultimate indicator" of
vulnerability, as families who gamble on the
safety and honor of their adolescent daugh-
ters are deemed to be truly desperate. Girls in
this category were given top priority to enter
the program.
Today, two groups of twenty girls in each
training session spend four hours each day
learning rug-weaving skills for a period of three
to six months. (The variability of the training
period depends upon the regularity with which
the girl can attend training sessions and the
rapidity with which she masters the new skills.)
Though a schedule of training as well as work
hours is established, it is not rigidly enforced.
In specific cases a girl's schedule will be ne-
gotiated with her family so that she is still avail-
able for garbage sorting and other domestic
duties while participating in the program. This
is because the rug-weaving program, as with
all of the APE's economic interventions directed
at young girls, respects the close link between
the girls' economic roles, their social develop-
ment, and their standing within their family.
The program also seeks to impart to the
girls a physical sense of self-esteem. Girls are
required to show up for work on time and in a
clean dress, often one that is set aside spe-
cifically for this work. Their nails are expected
to be short and their hair clean and tidy as flies,

fleas, and other vermin are common in Maqat-
tam. When the girls enter the training or work
facility, they first wash their feet at the entrance;
many still do not have shoes so the simple act
of walking from home to the facility contami-
nates their feet. This washing of feet redefines
the rug-weaving (and now patchwork and pa-
permaking as well) center as a social space
apart and different from the home and the
street. It is their "school."
During the training period girls receive
wages of about 40 Egyptian pounds (US
$11.80) a month. If they are not literate, they
are also encouraged to enroll in literacy classes
which are run on alternate days or off hours so
as not to conflict with their skills training. Once
the girls have become competent weavers,
they are eligible to take out loans to buy a loom.
By the end of 1995, 500 girls had received
training in rug weaving, 225 of whom have
taken loans to buy looms. These girls get their
orders for woven goods and raw materials from
the center. They then complete the work at
home and bring it back to the center. They get
paid an average of 80 pounds a month for this
work. The cloth used to weave the rugs comes
from fabric wholesalers who either donate
waste cloth from clothing factories or sell it to
the APE in bulk at low cost. There is no lower
limit on how much girls must produce and, on
average, most active girls earn about 300
pounds per month.
In order for a girl to work at home, she
must have sufficient space for the loom and
some assurance that her work will not be con-
taminated or soiled. Thus, it is not surprising
that most of the girls who have taken out loans
to buy looms are from non-garbage-collecting/
sorting families. Girls coming from garbage-
sorting families must either make arrange-
ments to use looms belonging to non-garbage-
collecting neighbors or they must reserve time
to work on a loom in the training center.
In Maqattam today other girls are learning
to do patchwork. They are taking loans to buy
sewing machines or making arrangements to do
their work at the center. Both programs have the
flexibility to allow each girl who completes train-
ing to maintain and continue her income-gener-
ating work. The girls are paid not only for the
volume of their work but for its quality, as well as
for their observance of the basic rules of work
organization. For example, girls who perpetu-
ally violate agreements on their hours may be

docked small amounts of money as will girls who
turn in work that is substandard.
A paper recycling and embroidery proj-
ect was established by the APE in 1993 and
may be the only project worldwide in which the
recycling of paper is done exclusively by young
women. Indeed, girls as young as twelve par- ,,
ticipate in this work. In total sixty-three have
been trained in paper recycling and the major-
ity of them are active in the program on a weekly
basis. In the last two years, the quality of paper
the girls have produced has steadily improved
as their knowledge and the technical facilities
in which they work have been upgraded.
The economic terms of reference for girls
in the paper recycling project are slightly differ-
ent from those in the rug-weaving and patch-
work projects. After three months of training (the
first two of which they receive no payment),
these girls are formed into teams with each re-
ceiving a base salary of 70 pounds per month.
(Because training in paper recycling can be
carried out alongside schooling and because
there was such a demand for participation, girls
in this program are not paid during their train-
ing period.) Team leaders chosen from among
the girls are responsible for overseeing the pro-
duction process from start to finish; they receive
90 pounds monthly. It is important to note that
both the working conditions and the salary of-
fered by the project are superior to the limited
work opportunities available-sometimes ille-
gally-for girls this age in other parts of Cairo.
There girls work 10 to 12 hours daily in unhealthy
conditions for between 70 and 80 Egyptian
pounds per month without access to the literacy
classes, tea breaks, or excursions that are part
of the APE program."
Paper recycling requires that a number
of steps be carried out simultaneously by
teams of girls. Between two and three teams
are at work at the same time. Scrap paper is
collected from schools and offices (separated
by color and type before recycling) and then
is shredded, soaked, and subsequently fed
into a machine (called the Hollander Beater)
which turns it into pulp. It is then treated with
ingredients that assist the bonding of the pa-
per thread, and poured, as an increasingly vis-
cous liquid, into large tublike vats. Next, the
mixture is scooped up into screened frames
that resemble window screens, allowing the fi-
bers to catch and connect. While the paper is
still wet, the girls turn over each screen and

lay each piece of paper singly on a flat sur-
face where it is dried and then, using weights,
Today, the recycled paper the girls pro-
duce is of sufficient quality to be used as writ-
ing and art paper. A heavier colored paper is
also produced, which is cut into stand-up cards
on which scenes of Egyptian life and other
designs are embroidered. Now the paper re-
cycling project can also produce marbleized
paper gift bags of different sizes. As a next
step, they hope to produce paper made from
plant fibers and cotton materials that would
produce a better quality paper that could be
sold at a higher price to artists. In 1995, an
exhibition of paintings and drawings on
Maqattam paper by local artists was held with
the help of CEDARE and Magid Farag, who
hosted the exhibition in his open-air grounds
on the Nile. The second exhibition was held a
few months later at the Ramisis Hilton Hotel.
The girls currently produce sixty-one
square meters of paper per day and, in 1994
alone, almost twelve thousand embroidered
cards were sold. Total sales in 1996 reached
96,530 pounds (US $28,000). The rugs, patch-
work, and paper are all sold in a Cairo shop
made available by a board member of the APE,
and the project regularly receives orders from
charity bazaars and art-supply shops through-
out Egypt. Special orders have also been re-
ceived from the United States and Europe.

Money of Their Own and
Pride in Themselves

Despite their traditional economic con-
tributions to their families, for most of the girls
the money they receive from the Maqattam
income-generating activities is the first they
have ever earned themselves. Despite the fact
that they pay the money directly to the girls,
the project organizers had long been curious
to know to what degree the girls are actually
able to control this money themselves and how
their families view their earnings. Therefore, in
the summer of 1995, in-depth interviews were
conducted with girls who had been in the pro-
gram for several years.
Most of the young women reported their
families respect that the money they earn is
their own and do not appropriate it for other
uses. Though some girls do decide to contrib-
ute some of this money to meet family needs,
most hold the firm expectation (or have already
had the experience) that the money is theirs to
use as they see fit. Sometimes the girls use
the money to purchase clothing, while others
sometimes save the money to buy durable
household items for use after they marry (as
described below). Some mothers-clearly
proud of their daughters' work and mindful of
their challenging futures-emphasize that both
their daughters' participation in the project and
their earnings are "something for you."

All the project's activities in support of Ma-
qattam's girls, whether conducted in the com-
munity or outside, are designed to instill disci-
pline, pride, and tidiness: lining up to get on
the bus, arriving on time for meals, gathering
up waste in garbage bags. And, in keeping
with the Egyptian love of celebration, many of
these lessons are imparted through games and
dance and impromptu plays and skits.
Several times a year, girls well-estab-
lished in any of the production and social de-
velopment programs are given an opportunity
to take field trips outside their community. This
may be a bus ride to a nearby lake or a visit to
the Pyramids. Then, once a year, the girls make
a four-day visit to the Mediterranean Sea for a
camping trip. In this environment they learn
basic elements of hygiene, such as washing
hands before and after meals, how to prevent
lice, and how to use a latrine or flush a toilet
(in some homes the pigsty still serves as the
family toilet facility). These field trips also pro-
vide girls with a rare chance to see a world
beyond Maqattam, not to mention giving them
a chance to smell fresh air and providing a
temporary escape from the realities of life in
their communities.

Community Health Care: A
"Career" for Girls

In 1981, a health study undertaken in the
community by EQI revealed the following: In-
fant and under-five deaths in Maqattam were
240 per 1,000 as compared to 98 per 1,000
for all of Egypt, and causes of infant death were
overwhelmingly related to tetanus (55 percent),
dehydration (15 percent), malnutrition (10 per-
cent), and measles (5 percent). Another, car-
ried out in 1989, found that more than 50 per-
cent of women in Maqattam were not receiv-
ing any prenatal care and only 32 percent were
vaccinated against tetanus. Yet, in the same
study, it was clear that the Maqattam citizens
attached great value to their children's health;
80 percent reported going to private doctors
when their children suffered from fever or diar-
rhea. In fact, the study revealed that the poor-
est garbage-collecting families often spent
more money on doctors and medicine for their
children than many better-off households.
At the same time that concern was ris-
ing in the community about general health
practices, greater attention was also being fo-

caused on the connection between the unmet
needs of adolescent girls and longer-term
maternal and child health outcomes. Illiterate
and disempowered mothers rarely receive
adequate support during pregnancy, nor do
they effectively attend to all the health needs
of their infants and children. It was out of a
commitment to change this situation that the
Maqattam Community Health and Develop-
ment Committee was formed.
The Health and Development Committee
emerged formally in 1990 after a three-year
process during which the APE board endeav-
ored to provide support on an individual basis
for staff working in a variety of women's pro-
grams. While the earlier one-to-one process
had been successful in establishing trust within
the community, by 1990 there was clearly a
need for a formal committee structure. Cur-
rently the Health and Development Commit-
tee meets at least once a month and has the
enthusiastic participation of all those working
on programs to assist women and children. In
September 1993, the Committee agreed on a
common definition of its mandate:
The Health and Development Committee
seeks the cooperation of the associations in
Maqattam working in the field of health and
development with particular emphasis on wom-
en and girls to:

1. Constitute a forum for common reflec-
2. Learn about the priority needs of the
people, particularly in the field of
health and human development.
3. Support each other for the sake of in-
creasing the effectiveness of the pro-
grams and projects undertaken by lo-
cal organizations.
4. Increase the participation of young
women and girls in decision-making.
The first major activity undertaken by the
Committee was to develop a scheme to em-
ploy young women as health workers. In this
way girls serving as agents of change to reach
families with newborns and young children
would, at the same time, be receiving knowl-
edge of how to protect their own reproductive
health. The decision to engage girls rather than
older women as community health workers was
based on the project's perception that many
of the girls were truly eager to learn. As Marie
Assaad, who chairs the Committee, puts it,
"Girls have continuous demands for learning
and knowledge about their reproductive health."
Besides, older women were not only more of-
ten preoccupied but they tended to have more
fixed ideas. Owing to the press of time or sim-
ply habit, they were considered more resistant
to change.
The first community health program em-
ploying adolescent girls was established in
1988 and, through its household-visiting pro-
gram, managed to increase childhood immu-
nization levels in the community from 2 to 50
percent within one year. In 1995, these rates
were close to 95 percent and, since 1989,
there have been no child deaths due to teta-
From 1988 to 1993, the program oper-
ated according to its initial formula-succeed-
ing waves of girls (sometimes as many as
twenty a year) being trained as health visitors.
These girls then moved around the community,
bringing basic messages about maternal and
child health and household hygiene as well as
providing some services, such as administer-
ing first aid and providing home treatment of
common ailments such as tonsillitis, colds,
and diarrhea.
By 1993, however, the APE staff had
started thinking about changing the project's
design. This was because the earlier interven-

tion, while addressing pregnant women and
mothers of young children, had completely over-
looked adolescent girls living in the same house-
holds. The project organizers, therefore, decided
to add an "adolescent girls' initiative" to the
project which would pay special attention to
households with girls ages twelve to twenty. The
resulting emphasis on linking girls together-the
trained health visitors seeking out girls in other
households-springs from the project's growing
understanding that the window of age between
twelve and twenty is the best time to reach the
majority of girls as it is then that they begin to
become engaged, if not married, with a large
proportion becoming mothers.
This endeavor, entitled the Health Care
of Families and Adolescent Girls Project, be-
gins by selecting girls between the ages of
twelve and eighteen from among the poorest
families-typically garbage-collecting families.
Before beginning their training, each girl is
given a physical examination and laboratory
tests; appropriate treatment is given for com-
mon conditions such as low hemoglobin and
parasitic diseases (about two-thirds or more
of the girls are afflicted). As virtually every girl
in the community has a range of unattended
health and nutritional problems, this process
can take several months.
Once all the girls are in good health
themselves, training in primary and reproduc-
tive health care begins. Sessions are con-
ducted twice-weekly over a period of ten
months. The curriculum includes: household
sanitation, nutrition, the sequence of child-
hood immunization, appropriate care during
pregnancy, and strong messages discourag-
ing female genital mutilation (FGM). While the
girls are not paid any stipend during the train-
ing period, they are given useful items such
as toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, towels,
first aid kits, and scissors as compensation
for regular attendance and good work.
In Maqattam virtually all girls have been
subjected to some form of female circumci-
sion (Egyptians do not commonly use the in-
ternational term female genital mutilation or
FGM). While officially discouraged, this pro-
cedure is almost universally practiced among
both Coptics and Muslims. Yet, despite being
circumcised themselves, the girls are quite will-
ing-in fact sometimes enthusiastic-about
carrying the anti-FGM message to the com-
munity, alongside all the other health mes-



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sages. They have come to understand that
FGM brings no benefit but rather can cause a
good deal of harm to girls' and women's re-
productive and sexual health, not to mention
their psychological well-being.
Upon completion of the training program
the girls are ready to make household visits,
usually completing three or four each week.
On these visits, the young health workers pro-
vide girls their own age and other family mem-
bers with information about young women's
health needs. For this work they receive a sal-
ary of 70 pounds per month.

Great Expectations: Young
Women Define Their Future

Evaluating the success of a project such
as this one, particularly in terms of empower-
ment goals, is obviously difficult. However, in
the summer of 1994, a small experiment was
undertaken. A group of girls participating in
the Health and Development Project, as well
as the APE's other income-generating activi-
ties, were interviewed. Included in the group
were sixteen girls who had been involved in
some aspect of the program for one year or
more. All the girls participated in focus group
discussions aimed to evoke their views about
their own future reproductive health and per-
sonal fulfillment.
Not surprising in such a traditional com-
munity, the girls universally expect to marry,
so this was taken as an entry point for discus-
sion. What was detected in these in-depth
group discussions was not changed expecta-
tions with regard to the inevitability of marriage,
but rather changed expectations regarding the
quality of their future lives, their role in select-
ing their husbands, the establishment of a more
equitable basis for the husband and wife rela-
tionship, a clear desire to continue learning and
earning after marriage, and a well-developed
sense of their responsibility as future mothers-
particularly with respect to daughters of their
own. When the facilitators asked the girls to
identify what they would like their future respec-
tive husbands to know about them that would
make them "feel safe and valued," answers
flowed almost immediately. At the conclusion
of the session, the girls agreed to write letters
to an imaginary future husband. Fourteen let-
ters were completed and their lessons distilled
into a single representative "Letter from Laila"

addressed to their future husbands and their
families. The girls said:

I should not get married before I
am at least eighteen years old.
I must get to know my future hus-
band and he should know me. We
need to agree on how to relate to
each other and on what kind of fam-
ily we should have. We need to de-
cide together on the size of our fam-
ily, that girls are as valuable as boys
and have a right to education and
work just as much as boys.
My husband should not blame me
for giving birth to girls. He is the one
responsible for that.
Both of us must nurture our love
and develop mutual respect for each
other He must know that women are
not a burden to men and that wom-
en are not created solely for the plea-
sure of men.
We must reject the harmful tradi-
tional practices such as the virginity
test and the circumcision of young
girls. He must fully understand the
harmful effect of such practices as
I have learned to understand them.
We must together decide on the
size of our family and what contracep-
tive method we should use.
We girls have agreed together that
we must have our first child during
the first year of our marriage, and
we would need to leave a space of
two or three years before the birth
of the second child. We know that
for the sake of our health and the
health of our children we should not
have more than two or maximum
three children.
I would like my husband to en-
courage me to further my education
and to continue with my work. I
should not be solely responsible for
the household chores, nor for the
raising of our children; we must both
share the joys and burdens of such

This letter will be posted on the wall of
the community center once the new group of
trainees discuss and modify the contents.

The Boys' Response
The letter was also read to a group of
boys in a parallel focus group and these boys
produced their own statements. Their views,
while somewhat more traditional, still show
some new perceptions and the evolving basis
for more equal male-female partnerships in the
coming generation. Though a distilled "Letter
from Isaac" is still in the works, here is some of
what young men of a similar age had to say.
Out of eleven, nine boys agreed with the notion
of educating girls equally with boys and the right
of women to work outside the home. Ten out of
the eleven rejected the "virginity test" conducted
on the wedding night-in discussion they
seemed to understand how it humiliates the
bride and destroys the privacy of marriage. Ten
out of the eleven also said they would not cir-
cumcise their daughters.
The development of these letters has
proved to be an innovative means by which
boys and girls in a conservative community can
communicate by proxy. To the extent that these
letters circulate in the community, they also
allow for greater recognition of girls' reproduc-

tive rights, the education and work opportuni-
ties girls want and can clearly handle, and what
the girls are seeking in terms of improved hus-
band-wife relations. However, as we will see
later, even when girls gain new skills and have
less traditional values, if the families into which
they marry (as well as their future husbands)
still do not appreciate their competence or re-
spect their rights, the personal autonomy they
have gained through participation in the pro-
gram may be lost.

Negotiating Girls' Right to
Work and Gaining Respect for
Their Time

Mindful of the stress placed on poor fami-
lies in general, especially when social and eco-
nomic change is rapid, the APE established a
Crisis Management Committee aimed at find-
ing and supporting Maqattam families in spe-
cial need. The Crisis Management Commit-
tee is composed of two APE board members
who oversee the health and literacy projects,
along with another APE staff member, and a
young woman from the community, who is re-
sponsible for coordinating their work. The
Committee meets twice a month-more fre-
quently should emergencies arise. Initially, the
Committee expected to deal primarily with fi-

nancial crises, such as those that arise when
a key family member dies or an accident
befalls a child. However, they soon discov-
ered that many of the crises brought to them
actually revolved around the competing de-
mands and expectations placed on girls and
young women.
Frequently, the issue of girls' participa-
tion in the program (about two-thirds of the girls
participating in the program are from garbage-
collecting families) served to catalyze a time
use crisis both for the girl and her family.12 But
with the support of the Crisis Management Com-
mittee, even girls with fairly intense garbage-
collecting and sorting responsibilities have been
able to bargain with their families for the blocks
of time they need to participate in the program-
that is, with a few notable exceptions.
The story of Zahra (not her real name)
provides a case in point. Zahra wanted to learn
paper recycling, but her family opposed her
participation because they relied intensely on
the labor of this oldest female child. Over a
period of several months, the Committee ne-
gotiated with the family to allow Zahra to be
free by 9:00 AM (having risen at 4:00 AM to clean
the pigsty and prepare the house for garbage
sorting) so she could attend the paper recy-
cling program. However, after a few weeks, this
arrangement fell apart because her father
sometimes arrived late with the garbage, so
Zahra was still sorting at 9:30 AM. At this point,
the program compromised and set the official
start time for Zahra at 9:30 AM.
The family also insisted that Zahra be home
from "school" by 1:45 PM to prepare meals and
get the house ready for the second round of gar-
bage sorting. However, sometimes Zahra could
not get home in time and then she would be
harshly scolded. Another intervention with the
family yielded an understanding that Zahra
could not always get back before 2:00 PM.
Then Zahra showed an interest in partici-
pating in the adolescent health training pro-
gram, which meets between 3:00 PM and 5:00
PM twice a week. She pressed her family to al-
low her to participate but, again, they were not
in agreement. (Subsequently, social workers
found out that Zahra was being beaten by her
parents.) Finally, the head of the Crisis Man-
agement Committee visited Zahra's father one
last time to attempt a compromise. In the end,
both the father and mother agreed that twice
a week their son (their youngest child who was

fervently protected by the parents) would go
out with the father on his afternoon garbage
collection rounds thus freeing Zahra to join the
health project.
This case, though exceptional in its in-
tensity, illustrates a central issue. In the poor-
est communities, there is an inextricable link
between the time use of adolescent girls and
the work burdens of other family members.
Often a girl, especially the oldest girl, is re-
quired to carry more responsibilities than the
other children. In reality then, the Crisis Man-
agement Committee's negotiations, which were
nominally about scheduling, were in fact ne-
gotiations over the family's view of this child.
The Committee's intervention, and indeed the
programs for girls themselves, have begun to
individualize the girls-to define their rights and
needs in contradistinction to the claims of the
family. Through the structure imposed by the
program, families have begun to regard a girl's
time as both separate from and important to
the family and to think aheadto the girl's longer-
term well-being and the ultimate value of the
skills she may acquire.
In fact, what the Crisis Management Com-
mittee and the APE program as a whole are
doing is negotiating the restructuring of what
young girls do with their days, what places they
are expected or allowed to be, with whom they
can interact, and how they see themselves in
relation to the wider world. The project has
demonstrated that, with slight adjustments in
"scheduling," a girl can suddenly move beyond
the world of mother-father-sister-brother to one
of studies, teachers, trainers, managers of
income-generating programs, and the world
beyond Maqattam-a whole new set of expe-
riences and relationships beyond both family
and the community.

Negotiating Continuing
Autonomy for Girls as They

Another kind of crisis regularly presented
to the Committee, often in the disguise of mon-
etary disputes within the family, emerged from
the pressures surrounding the marriage of a
daughter. On the one hand, families wish at all
costs to avoid the social stigma and, to some
extent, the material damage caused by hav-
ing an unmarried daughter. On the other hand,
with the cost of marriage rising all over Egypt,

a girl's wedding has become at least a short-
term financial hardship for most families. Even
in the poorest communities families are ex-
pected to contribute household goods valued
at as much as 3,000 pounds (approximately
U.S. $885), which is equal to four months in-
come for a garbage-collecting family of six to
eight members in Maqattam (and three
months' salary for an average two-income
working family in Egypt). For this reason, girls
past menarche and approaching marriage-
able age find themselves the source of much
family anxiety.
The Crisis Management Committee was
concerned at several levels. First, despite the
variety of social and economic measures al-
ready taken to empower girls ages twelve to
twenty, the prevailing costs of marrying off
daughters, along with the expectation that
through marriage she (i.e., her labor and
skills) will be lost to her natal family, leads to
a devaluation of girls and, in some families, a
view that they are a burden. Second, girls' fun-
damental sexual and reproductive rights are
often violated. Girls are frequently coerced

into marriages they do not choose and often
at an age below that mandated by Egyptian
law. Third, it has been found that early mar-
riages cut girls off from prospects for future
training and education even if they have been
participants in the APE program for adoles-
To encourage both delayed and volun-
tary marriages for young women, the Crisis
Management Committee designed an innova-
tive new program. A public announcement was
made within the Maqattam community that 500
pounds (approximately U.S. $148) would be
awarded to any girl in the community (who has
been affiliated with the program) who deferred
her marriage until age eighteen and who freely
consented to the marriage. To date, about forty-
three girls have received this award.
To obtain the award, a girl approaches
one of the Committee members with her re-
quest. Through indirect means, the Commit-
tee verifies her age (many girls do not have
birth certificates) and the voluntary terms of
her marriage. Further, before receiving the
award, the girl must present a marriage certifi-

cate as, in a few cases, girls have tried to ob-
tain the money based on an "engagement" to
be married after their eighteenth birthday.
The value of this bold program is now
being reviewed. Over the summer of 1995,
seven girls who had received the 500 pounds
as newlyweds were interviewed about their
experience. Their responses, alongside other
demographic and social data available on
twenty-two girls still living in the community who
had received the 500 pounds over the last
several years, were analyzed.
Two-thirds of the girls who received the
award were from garbage-collecting families
and the majority married into garbage-
collecting families. All of the girls interviewed
indicated that they had used their money-not
for a bedroom set, as originally posited by the
program directors based on local custom-but
for practical items such as a butagas (which
reduces cooking time and increases the hy-
giene of food) and simple washing machines
which are also time-savers with health benefits.
The young women also reported that despite
their lack of status within their husbands'
homes, such items were clearly seen as their
personal property, even when they lived-as
most do-in an extended family household.
Some very troubling information also
emerged in the course of these interviews. All
of these girls had a median of two to three years
participation in one of the APE's programs and
thus had experienced several years of earning
and saving independently. Yet, once married,
their continued participation in income-
generating work was often in doubt. Some
of the young married women actually de-
scribed their lives in their husbands' house-
holds as a setback and, in some cases, as vir-
tual bondage.
In this traditional society, a new bride oc-
cupies the lowest rung in the domestic hierar-
chy, being subjugated to the wishes of her
husband, her mother-in-law, and the wider fam-
ily. In addition, once married, a young woman
is expected to prove her fertility and consoli-
date her marriage by conceiving and bearing
a child within the first two years. Yet, this obliga-
tory and highly anticipated first pregnancy
does not bring with it any leisure or preferen-
tial treatment for the young women; rather they
reported that the excessive physical demands
made on them did not abate and that no spe-
cial consideration was given to their needs

for better nutrition and rest. It is not surpris-
ing then that pregnant women in Maqattam
are often malnourished and complain of gen-
eral fatigue, and that the babies born to such
young women tend to be weak and have low
levels of immunity.
Many of the young married women re-
ported that their husbands felt it would reflect
negatively on them in their role as providers if
their wives worked to earn income. Even
among the girls who had received the 500
pound award, two-thirds had dropped out of
the program since getting married (and they
were more likely to have dropped out if their
husband was a garbage collector). A few re-
ported that even the new social values they
had adopted-such as the desire not to cir-
cumcise their daughters and a sense of equal-
ity between men and women-were under tre-
mendous pressure during the first years of
marriage. One young woman, who had par-
ticipated in the program for almost seven years,
reported being threatened that if she took up
income-generating work again, she would be
thrown out of the house.
To date, the combination of health and
livelihood programs have succeeded in reach-
ing an estimated one-sixth of all adolescent
girls in the garbage-collecting community;
theoretically all of these girls are not only eli-
gible for the 500 pound award, but are eligible
to continue their work in paper recycling,
patchwork, and rug-making after marriage. Yet,
despite the delayed age of marriage and the
desire for only two or three children, families
still place a clear value on early pregnancy.
The fact that a new bride has been earning on
her own for some time does little to change
her relatively low status in her husband's fam-
ily. While the young brides who were inter-
viewed indicated a desire to resist such chal-
lenges to their new ways of thinking, they rec-
ognized that, for the moment at least, they have
been relegated to the traditional role of sub-
servient wife who must obey the wishes of her
mother-in-law and husband, in that order. Some
spoke with longing of the moment when they
would be able to form their own household and
live apart, even if it were only one floor removed.
Many indicated a desire not only to continue
working, but also to continue having contacts
outside their home.
So for most of these young women, the
first few years of marriage represented a re-

versal in the development of their personal
autonomy. This information, although discour-
aging, is vital to future program planning. As
we will see, the project is now seeking ways to
continue supporting the girls even though their
status has changed from girls to young mar-
ried women.

Looking Ahead

The APE's income-generating activities
(the rug-weaving, patchwork, and paper recy-
cling projects) are all under constant scrutiny
with respect to their economic sustainability and
the availability of viable markets for the prod-
ucts they produce. However, in terms of com-
munity acceptance, the ability of girls to master
new skills, and the pleasure the young women
take in their work and schooling opportunities,
these projects are an unquestioned success.
With respect to the health work, the initial
results of the girl-to-girl adolescent health pro-
gram have led the organizers to try to replicate
it in Tora, a smaller garbage-collecting commu-
nity that is presently undergoing a comprehen-
sive upgrading program. In Tora, the health work
in this area will begin with adolescent health
workers reaching out to families in a neighbor-
ing community to begin to do an assessment of
their knowledge levels and their willingness to
be the focal point for community development
efforts. The Maqattam experience of training

adolescent girls in community health is thus
serving as an effective model for Tora.
There are some other aspects of the pro-
gram that perhaps need redesigning. It is still
too early to evaluate the overall impact of the
500 pound program. To date, the forty-three
girls who have received the award have been
able to delay their marriages and have ex-
pressed delight in being able to secure equip-
ment or goods that reduce their labor and im-
prove their lives. Yet the receipt of such mon-
ey, combined with participation in income-
generating programs, has not immediately
changed the lot of these new brides. These
young women may potentially be freer than
those who neither participated in the program
nor received the money, but the project's or-
ganizers now see how much more needs to
be done to assist them. The design of pro-
gram strategies and the level of trust in the
community developed by the Committee
members have allowed the APE to negotiate
the freedom to earn and learn for girls twelve
to eighteen. The challenge is how to extend
the approach to benefit young married wom-
en eighteen and older. How much more diffi-
cult will it be to gain the support and trust of a
young woman's in-laws rather than her own
parents? How can the program widen the
horizon of a young woman who is no longer
viewed as a growing daughter but an inexpe-
rienced wife and prospective mother?

A great deal of thought and consideration
has been given to how best to support girls
through the transition into marriage and early
motherhood. As a first step, the Health and De-
velopment Committee has opened a nursery
that currently cares for five infants and twenty
toddlers. It is designed not only to provide
employment opportunities and child care ser-
vices within the community, but in particular to
help support young mothers who wish to re-
sume income-generating activities.
A second program, currently in the plan-
ning stages, will focus on men-youths, hus-
bands, and fathers-and encourages their
support of unmarried and married young wom-
en alike. The APE views this as critically im-
portant as it is concerned that otherwise there
will be an increasing gap between the new and
expanding aspirations of girls and young wom-
en and traditional male views of women's rights
and responsibilities. The "Letter to Leila" and
the "Letter to Isaac" exercises are just the be-
ginning of what is hoped will be a longer pro-
cess of community sensitization and public dia-
logue about the emerging roles of young wom-
en in Maqattam. So, quietly but resolutely, eco-
nomic opportunities for girls are fomenting a
revolution in Maqattam. The only question is,
how far will it go?

Lessons Learned

1. Adolescent enterprise programs must
recognize that at least two products are being
simultaneously produced-services or prod-
ucts for sale and the building of human capital
in the form of skills, decision-making capacity,
and self-confidence. Girls' social and eco-
nomic progress is closely linked. So while suc-
cessful economic programs must be adapted
to the realities of the society, at the same time
they must also seek to change girls' social
position. Organizers of economic programs for
girls must, in many cases, retrieve girls lost op-
portunities (as they have been heretofore ex-
cluded from learning and leadership roles)
before preparing them for entry into the work
place. This can be done by training them to
meet schedules, present themselves attrac-
tively, produce work up to a certain quality, and
work cooperatively with others.
2. Apart from offering an immediate eco-
nomic benefit to girls from poor families, in-
come-generating activities can serve as a
means to "capture" them for introduction to a

wider range of social possibilities, including
basic education and training. Efforts to improve
girls' livelihoods can and should be accom-
panied by improvements in other areas of their
lives. In Maqattam, this includes changes in
the community health environment and public
discouragement of practices that deleteriously
effect girls' self-esteem and physical well-be-
ing. Not only does the project promote a broad
concept of community health by making gar-
bage collecting and sorting more efficient and
safer, but it also condemns traditions that are
harmful either to the spirit or physical self of
young women, such as female genital mutila-
tion and forced and early marriage.
3. The key to making "outside" work op-
portunities for young girls desirable and ac-
ceptable requires that they be located in the
community and operate in such a way that they
do not compromise the girls' social status (i.e.,
potential marriageability) or unduly undermine
the girls' vital work contributions to their fami-
lies. Providing girls with organized earning op-
portunities away from home can be highly ac-
ceptable even to parents in poor, conserva-
tive communities. In Maqattam, once several
cohorts of girls had received training and be-
gun earning, the participation of daughters in
these income-generating activities became so
commonplace that parents no longer questioned
their involvement; indeed, there are currently
more girls and families that want to participate
than there are openings in the various programs.
4. Within the context of skills training and
provision of income-earning opportunities, lit-
eracy is an essential tool; without this link, there
is a direct cost to the enterprise in terms of the
quality of work produced. Therefore, income-
generating programs in Maqattam are closely
linked with literacy efforts for girls. Literacy class-
es operated by the project use examples from
the work place to make their points (i.e. count-
ing out squares and embroidering letters).
5. When appropriately trained, unmarried
girls' advice about proper food, rest, pregnancy,
and even family planning has proved to be ac-
ceptable and respected. The project has shown
that adolescent girls can become effective com-
munity motivators by serving as paid providers
of health information and services to families
within their community, provided they have been
well-trained and are perceived to be compe-
tent. After training and apprenticeship, once
they begin making home visits by themselves,
the girls have proved to be effective agents in

A" ,r





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* ;
- '

increasing the uptake of tetanus and other im-
munization as well as the adoption of good
health practices for mothers and newborns.
6. Maqattam girls as young as fourteen
are quite capable of expressing a nontraditional
set of values and setting out high expectations
for their future marriages, including their rights
and responsibilities as parents and workers.
Given exposure to new work and social experi-
ences, girls from highly traditional settings are
able to articulate (and seek for themselves to
varying degrees) a progressive vision of their
future lives. Though the full impact of the inter-
vention on their future lives remains to be seen,
the girls attach a high value to education, train-
ing, income-generation, free choice of hus-
bands in marriage, use of family planning, and
avoidance of harmful traditional practices.
7. For some girls-often from the poor-
est families-their involvement in an income-
generating or any enrichment program will re-
quire both on-going negotiations with their
families and flexibility on the part of program
organizers. While there is apparently little ten-
sion in Maqattam over girls being able to keep
their own earnings, the use of their time and
the freedom to vary their schedules are often
subjects of much contention. Some girls will
need special support if they are to manage the
conflicting demands of new skills training and
earning opportunities and their family work
commitments. In Maqattam, girls from gar-
bage-collecting families have far more conflicts
of this kind than girls whose families work in
recycling and other related services. The will-
ingness of program organizers to negotiate
with resistant parents is not only greatly ap-
preciated by the girls themselves, but demon-
strates to the rest of the community the extent
to which these girls are valued.
8. The value of programs to improve the
life skills, autonomy, and self-esteem of girls in
Maqattam is severely undermined-at least
temporarily-within the early years of the girls'
marriages. Efforts to assist adolescent girls
should not stop with their marriages, but must
continue to help them through the early chal-
lenges of marriage and the birth of their first
child. For the Maqattam project, an on-going
challenge is finding avenues to assure a conti-
nuity of income-generating opportunities and
social support to young brides during the very
difficult years of their transition into a new and
often oppressive family situation.

9. An important compliment to any pro-
gram that seeks to reconfigure young girls'
prospects are efforts to bring about new un-
derstandings of women's rights and practical
support of these rights by men within the com-
munity. In the Maqattam community, there is a
clear need, though not yet a clear plan, to in-
teract with men of all ages-adolescents and
adults-to broaden their traditional views of
girls' and women's roles. Most critically, there
appears to be a need to re-educate the com-
munity and revise its expectations of girls' be-
havior upon marriage. Reconfiguring the pos-
sibilities for girls and young married women is
particularly challenging since to do so requires
not just changing attitudes but redefining re-
sponsibilities within both partnerships and ex-
tended families so that men, and other family
members, take on a largerand more fairshare
of the burden of caring for family members
(young and old), household management, and,
finally, livelihoods.

Peplinsky, Nancy L. 1994. Addressing Needs and Oppor-
tunities: A survey of programs for adolescents. (Washington, D.C.,
International Center for Research on Women).
2 The 1993 Household Survey was conducted by Environ-
mental Quality International (EQI) and analyzed in: EQI. 1997.
The Zabbaleen Environmental and Development Program Assess-
ment. (EQI, Cairo, Egypt).
3 For a comprehensive review of the range of community ex-
periments in Maqattam, see Marie Assaad and Nadra Garas "Ex-
periments in Community Development in a Zabbaleen Settle-
ment," in Cairo Papers in Social Science, vol. 16, monograph 4
(American University of Cairo Press, Winter 1993/94) and Arabic
translation of this text, 1995.
4 Kamel, Laila Iskandar. 1994. Maqattam Garbage Village,
Cairo, Egypt. (Stallion Graphics, Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt, p. 6).
5 Khattab, Hind. 1996, "Women's Perceptions of Sexuality in
Rural Giza." Monographs in Reproductive Health No. 1. (The Pop-
ulation Council, Cairo, Egypt).
6 Baseline studies of girls' health are reported upon in the
project submission made by the APE, "The Health Care of Fami-
lies and Adolescent Girls in the Zabbaleen area of Maqattam."
1995. APE, Cairo, Egypt.
7 Fergany, Nader. 1996. Baseline Information to Plan for Uni-
versalAccess to Primary Education in Egypt. (Unicef, Cairo, Egypt).
8 EQI, 1997.
9 EQI, 1997.
1o Kamel, 1994. This text is particularly helpful in getting a
sense of selection criteria for trainees and the social transforma-
tions that the training and income generation bring about.
For female youth under fifteen, the average wage in 1992
was 76 pounds per month. Source: CAPMAS. 1992. Employment,
wages and hours of work. (CAPMAS, Cairo, Egypt).
12 However, it is also important to note that those girls living
in equally poor families not involved in garbage collection in
Maqattam actually may have time on their hands; in interviews,
some described their lives before marriage as "waiting around."

Design: Ann Leonard
Cover Photo: Ellen Warner
Typography: Heidi Neurauter-Orth
Printing: Graphic Impressions

Other Editions of SEEDS Currently Available
No. 2 Hanover Street: An Experiment to Train Women in Welding
and Carpentry-Jamaica (English, Spanish)
No. 3 Market Women's Cooperatives: Giving Women Credit-
Nicaragua (Spanish, French)
No. 4 Women and Handicrafts: Myth and Reality-International
(English, Spanish, French)
No. 5 The Markala Cooperative: A New Approach to Traditional
Economic Roles-Mali (French)
No. 6 The Working Women's Forum: Organizing for Credit and
Change-India (French)
No. 7 Developing Non-Craft Employment for Women in Bang-
ladesh (English, French, Spanish)
No. 8 Community Management of Waste Recycling: The SIRDO-
Mexico (English, Spanish)
No. 9 The Women's Construction Collective: Building for the
Future-Jamaica (English, Spanish)
No. 10 Forest Conservation in Nepal: Encouraging Women's
Participation (English, Spanish, French, Nepali)
No. 11 Port Sudan Small Scale Enterprise Program-Sudan
No. 12 The Muek-Lek Women's Dairy Project in Thailand
No. 13 Child Care: Meeting the Needs of Working Mothers and
Their Children (English, Spanish)
No. 14 Breaking New Ground: Reaching Out to Women Farmers in
Western Zambia (English, Spanish, French)
No. 15 Self-Employment as a Means to Women's Economic Self-
Sufficiency: Women Venture's Business Development
Program (English)
No. 16 Wasteland Development and the Empowerment of Women:
The SARTHI Experience (English, French, Hindi)
No. 17 Supporting Women Farmers in the Green Zones of
Mozambique (English)
No. 18 Out of the Shadows: Homebased Workers Organize for
International Recognition (English)

If you would like additional copies of this issue or any of the editions of
SEEDS listed above, please write to us at the address given below.
Copies of selected SEEDS issues in local languages are currently be-
ing published by organizations in the following countries: Egypt, In-
dia, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam. Please
write to us for more information if you are interested in these materials.
Ann Leonard, Editor
P.O. Box 3923
Grand Central Station
New York, New York 10163, U.S.A.

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