Through film and life, rural women address poverty and early marriage in Egypt


Amal, center, among Women's Committee members at Al Tod village, Luxor governorate. Photo Credit: UN Women/ Fatma Elzahraa Yassin

“Suffering from poverty is much better than early marriage, says Karima, a bold young Egyptian woman who was forced into an early marriage with a cousin at the age of 15.

She was born and married in Al Tod, a small village in the Luxor governorate (municipality), some 300 kms from the capital city of Cairo in Egypt. Today, Karima is uneducated, divorced and trying to make ends meet with her two children.

“My mother was also legally separated from my father, she admits, admitting the taboo nature of broken marriages in her traditional society. “Frankly, she was my point of weakness - my mother. I was trying not to be like her.

Sadness washes across her face as Karima repeats the words of her mother: “Don't be like me; don't be like me.

Karima's story is presented in a four-minute film created with the support of UN Women and screened on the first International Day of the Girl Child (11 October) in Cairo this year. It was produced by Amal Abou El Rouss, a rural woman Karima's village. Amal is an elected member of a local women's committee.

Amal employed amateur production techniques which she learned at a workshop on documentary production, organized by UN Women and the leading Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm. The objective of the training was to teach youth and rural women leaders to raise the issues affecting them in their communities in rural Upper Egypt.

Amal herself is educated, but like Karima she is also divorced and became the main bread-winner for her family, including mother, sisters and brother). She developed the script and produced the film entirely on her own, with the help of her younger brother for the editing. The Al Masry Al Youm team trained and supervised the production, without influencing the content.

Amal says she chose Karima as the protagonist of her first documentary to raise awareness about early child marriage because it has a profound impact on a woman's economic development and participation in economic life.

Men also participated in the workshop. Paula Milad, for example, produced a short film profiling a courageous female farmer, entitled “The Revolution of Om Eshak. It confronts and challenges the stereotype of women as helpless and dependent.

As part of a joint UN programme dubbed “Salasel or “Pro-poor Horticulture Value Chains in Upper Egypt, women in different municipalities in Upper Egypt have been elected by their community as members of committees that represent the needs and voices of women.

The joint programme is an MDG Project supported by the ILO, UNDP, UNIDO and UN Women and aims to help small famers in Upper Egypt to become more integrated in the agricultural production chain. UN Women has worked with the local communities to integrate women's concerns and needs throughout the project. It has also worked to certify the post-harvest centres — which are owned and managed by farmers' associations in Upper Egypt- with the Gender Equity Seal. This seal ensures that these centres recruit, train and promote their workers, men and women, on an equitable basis.

Back in Karima's village of Al Tod, the Salasel programme is helping her to learn new techniques and upgrade her entrepreneurial skills to start her own small business raising chickens and ducks. She plans to gain access to markets through the Al Tod farmer's association, a local partner of Salasel.

“I learned how to be in charge, and that I had to defend myself and my rights, says Karima, as her two young boys help her place chickens in their cages in a dusty brick-laid yard. “I will take good care of my children. I will give them education. They will not suffer from any deprivation, as I did.