Education and learning are key to empowering women, says Damietta’s Mayor Manal Awad in an interview with URBANET.
In 2021, the Egyptian city of Damietta was among ten cities around the globe to win a UNESCO Learning Cities Award. The Award intends to promote the importance of lifelong learning opportunities on the local level and to showcase best practices. Acknowledging that learning and education are both integral parts and constituting elements of sustainable urban development, Damietta’s Mayor Manal Awad explains how her city connects education, gender equality, and city development in a productive way.
How do Egyptian cities combine empowering women and social development?
Manal Awad: While talking about this issue, we must shed light on the unprecedented support Egyptian women have received from the leadership in recent times, especially after President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, declared 2017 the Year of Egyptian Women. Furthermore, the government announced the National Strategy for the Empowerment of Women 2030 and the issuance of a package of legislation that ensured protection, equality, and equal opportunities for women. This was a turning point: women attained leadership positions in various state institutions at all levels, becoming judges, ministers, governors, and deputy governors, in addition to expanding the circle of women in the two chambers of the Egyptian Parliament. This has contributed to advancing development in all fields.
What role does education and learning play for sustainable development?
Manal Awad: Education and learning are the basis of sustainable development at various levels. This is because of their significant impact on capacity development, and the involvement of various institutions to make further progress in these areas, which enhances standards of social integration, economic growth, prosperity and sustainability.
The governorate of Damietta has made great progress in this regard, which led in turn to Damietta being awarded the UNESCO Learning Cities Prize for 2021 among ten cities around the world, for the goals that were achieved through the Women-Friendly City project.
What is the “Safe Cities” Programme and how does it connect with Damietta as a “Learning City”?
Manal Awad: The Safe Cities Programme is an initiative by UN Women Egypt that aims to empower women and girls by making urban public space spaces safe and thus accessible for them. This enables them to actively participate in public life and thus offers manifold options for their social and economic development.
Safe public spae for women © Damietta Governorate
Under the Safe Cities Programme, Damietta implemented the women-friendly city project in Ezbet El-Borg in cooperation with the National Council for Women and with a grant from UN Women. A women-friendly space has been created on the premises of Misr Public Library, aiming to offer a place for learning and exchange for female residents and female entrepreneurs. This is also responding to the particularities of the Ezbet El-Borg community, where many male residents are fishermen – a job which, apart from fishermen being away from their families for long periods of time, is also dangerous and has left many women widowed and bereft of an income. This situation emphasised the need for the city to provide vocational training opportunities for women, as is now happening in the women-friendly project. Additionally, the project also aims to enable women to start their very own businesses by training them to conduct feasibility studies of projects, calculating the inputs and outputs of the product, to make them entrepreneurs.
The project also goes beyond fostering economic development through learning. Its location in the Misr Public Library also ensures making cultural content available to the women and their children.