How Leila Found Empowerment and Self-Worth From Earning An Education

How Leila Found Empowerment and Self-Worth From Earning An Education



“At some point, I lost hope, and I almost drowned… but today, I am the one helping people to float.”


That’s how Leila*, a mother of five from a small village in Giza City, Egypt, described the contrast between what she felt before participating in the ACT programs, a local Egyptian organization advocating for women’s rights, and how she feels today.

A few years previously, her children were forced to drop out of school to work as the family was not able to meet its basic needs. At first, Leila considered arranging for her 12-year-old daughter to marry and, with an eye to family needs, she even reached a financial agreement with the potential groom. Child, Early and Forced Marriages based on such financial agreements between families are common practice in the disadvantaged area in which Leila resides. Her sister and several other family members were married in similar fashion and initially Leila felt there was no harm to it.

However, Leila had recently enrolled as a student in the ACT program’s literacy classes and this proved to be a turning point for her. She was quick to realize the importance of education and the role it played in defeating poverty. “For the first time in my life, I felt like a true human being,” she said.

While the literacy classes concentrated on teaching reading and writing, they also helped raise awareness about fundamental rights and the social, psychological, and legal consequences that result from harmful practices common to women in their community. One such was the financial marriage agreement made for young girls as in the case of Leila’s daughter. And, as Leila explained, thinking about this, she experienced a sort of epiphany that brought her back to her sister’s marriage. She recalled how she gradually became aware of the hardships her sister had to endure and realized that the price she paid was not worth the financial gains the marriage agreement was based on.

Maryam Ahmed El Desouky (12), 6th grade, Gawish Primary School in Beni Suef.

Startled but determined, Leila decided to forego the quick fix solution that her daughter’s marriage to an older wealthy man might deliver. “I would have lost my life and my children’s as well had I gone forward with the marriage agreement. When I attended the program trainings, I felt self-confident. It was like I have the capacity to do more than what I always thought I will be able to do [and] without placing my children’s life in harm.”

"For the first time in my life,
I felt like a true human being."

Leila proceeded to re-enroll her children in school, not just ensuring them a better chance, but also protecting them from threats like the human traffickers who prey on disadvantaged youth. She too went back to school and obtained her high school diploma. Once finished, she acquired a small loan through an ACT project with which she then proceeded to set up her small trading business.

By her own admission, two milestone steps in this resolute woman’s embattled journey have had a huge impact on Leila’s life, setting her on the road to financial independence and a gratifying and empowering sense of self-worth. She is secure in herself and so is her family, knowing, as she now does, that she has safe and sustainable alternatives to the powerlessness of once having had to consider trading her children for money.

Leila is now a member of ACT’s Capacity Building program that educates women about their political rights and encourages them to participate in the local political realm. Today, she is looking to nominate herself and run as a candidate in upcoming local municipal elections.

ACT established a four-year program in 2010 to help tackle issues of Human Trafficking and Child, Early, and Forced Marriage, common practices in underprivileged areas of Egypt. The program includes the establishment of an Economic Empowerment Unit focused on providing women and girls with vocational training relevant to improving their livelihoods and basic living conditions. It also seeks to help them start up and run their own small businesses independently and within their own communities. The latest assessment of ACT’s program shows a 75% increase in income generation among the 150 women who established their own small businesses. Learn more about CARE’s work on women’s economic empowerment here.

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