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Egypt’s Christian, Muslim institutions join efforts to advance women’s issues

With the objective of raising awareness about women's issues, the National Council for Women launched a campaign in which Muslim female preachers and Christian nuns reach out to women and families throughout Egypt.

CAIRO — Muslim female preachers and Christian nuns attended an awareness course at Assiut University on Sept. 13-14. This came as part of the training they have been receiving in the Door to Door campaign, led by Egypt's National Council for Women, in cooperation with the Ministry of Religious Endowments and the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church to promote Egyptian women’s issues.

The head of Egypt's National Council for Women, Maya Morsi, said during a press conference at the ministry’s headquarters Sept. 7 that the Door to Door campaign reached 1 million Egyptian women, adding that "a lot of the problems women suffered from were resolved."

Morsi had stated in mid-August that the campaign reached 410,845 women, and it continues to take place in about 22 Egyptian governorates.

The Door to Door campaign, which was launched July 25, will be ongoing until October. The campaign opens informative dialogues that target particular issues during face-to-face meetings with women and their families and provides religious, social or legal solutions to the problems raised. These problems include girls dropping out of schools, female genital mutilation, violence against women and denying women the right to inherit in some parts of Egypt.

On the training that nuns and female preachers have received, Dina Hussein, a member of the National Council for Women, told Al-Monitor, “Female preachers and nuns attended intensive training classes and workshops in order for [their roles] to be complementary. They were introduced to the prominent issues that will be raised in the Door to Door campaign, as well as the mechanisms that have enabled them to have direct communication with women from the various governorates, to promote women’s roles at the education and general services [levels].”

Hussein noted that the presence of female preachers alongside the nuns has “left a positive impression among women. It has promoted the positive values sought by the campaign, most notably the promotion of national unity and advancement of a woman’s value and role, regardless of her religion, social environment or culture.”

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Sheikh Gaber Tayeh, the head of the Ministry of Religious Endowments' religious sector, said, “The ministry is keen to involve female preachers in this campaign. This is based on its belief in the role of women and their importance in the community, and that the female preachers’ role should not be limited to the mosques. Rather, female preachers should assume an extensive role, reaching out to all parts across Egypt. This is why — in cooperation with the National Council for Women — a group of female preachers was chosen to volunteer.”

He noted, “It was agreed on the participation of 150 female preachers in the Door to Door campaign. They were placed at the disposal of the National Council for Women to deploy efforts to serve women’s issues in any of the Egyptian governorates.”

Tayeh added, “The presence of female preachers alongside the nuns is a great idea, as it reflects national cohesion and delivers a positive message on the religious institutions’ concerted efforts, be they the Ministry of Religious Endowments or the church, to advance Egyptian women’s issues, particularly those in remote areas, and this will be very fruitful.”

This cooperation was first seen in the “Together … to Serve the Homeland” Conference held in mid-May, with the objective of developing clear working mechanisms enabling the nuns and female preachers to take part in the National Council for Women’s initiatives to empower and raise awareness among Egyptian women.

Nehad Abul Komsan, a human rights activist and the head of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, told Al-Monitor, “Resorting to female preachers and nuns is a positive approach that would help gain some of the families’ trust, given that religion is highly estimated among Egyptians in general. This is not to mention its importance in rectifying some erroneous ideas, some of which are attributed to religion.”

“The door-to-door approach usually brings good results, especially in the remote areas and villages, and it is the adequate mechanism for the target category in these areas. Hence, the National Council for Women is largely credited for resorting to female preachers and nuns to answer queries or to clarify some thorny issues,” she added.

The fact that the National Council of Women has based its approach on the participation of female preachers and nuns to serve women’s issues is a positive step on the path toward enhancing the situation for women in the community.

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