Providing new opportunities to adolescent girls in socially conservative settings: The Ishraq program in rural Upper Egypt

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In the absence of intervention, poor, rural, unschooled girls in conservative and low-income communities throughout West Asia and North Africa, and indeed elsewhere, are destined to a life of poverty, illiteracy, early marriage, high fertility, and poor health. This report describes Ishraq, a well-designed, multi-dimensional skill-building program, that has altered this scenario in Upper Egypt by intervening early (around the time of puberty). The challenge for Ishraq is to link these girls, their families, and communities to the widening opportunities and rights structures of their countries through political participation, strong partnerships, and effective links among civil society, local and national governments, and NGOs. This report describes how Ishraq has set the stage for change in the original four communities with an approach that has challenged national-level decisionmakers to move substantially beyond conventional youth-serving initiatives serving urban, older, and often male beneficiaries.