Last Tuesday was an exciting day for the women of Sanafeer, a small village in Qalyubia, East of Cairo. The women were all smiles as they heard their names being called out to receive their national ID cards for the first time. Several women ululated to express their joy as they heard their names called out and one woman told me that it was a day she has long been waiting for.
One by one, the women signed their names and were handed the precious little ID cards that would allow them access to various public services they would otherwise have been deprived of.
“I can now register my children in school,” said 35 year-old FatmaMohamed , a simple peasant woman dressed in black . “I feel safer and more secure with an ID.” She added that she travels long distances on foot selling milk and poultry and does not feel safe without identification.
“I’m getting married after Eid. I will use my ID for the marriage certificate. Without an ID, I had no rights,” 22 year-old AbeerMansour said, beaming.
“Without an ID I simply don’t exist. I shall now be able to issue a health certificate,” 45-year-old FayzaMahmoud, a widow with four children told me.
The women gathered at the public health clinic to receive their national IDs will now finally have access to healthcare, education and other basic social rights. Under a new national campaign called Your ID, your rights, national ID cards are being issued to two million women free of charge.
The campaign is the collaborative effort of the Egyptian Ministry of State for Administrative Development, the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs, UN Women, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Social Fund for Development .
“We are starting with a pilot project in Qaliobeya Governorate where 40,000 women had no ID cards. It took two months to identify the women who don’t have national IDs. We got them to fill applications, which were then sent to the civil registry. We are bringing the service right to their doorstep to make it easy on the women,” UN Women’s Maya Morsy who supervises the campaign explained.
Community leaders have in recent months gone from door to door in villages in Qalyoubeya raising awareness about the campaign and the importance of having a national ID. The women were asked to gather at the Benha Public Health Center to have their photographs taken and to fill application forms. All that was required was that they bring along their birth certificates and a copy of the IDs of their fathers or husbands.
” I can now get a passport to go for pilgrimage,” cried an elderly woman adding that having an ID will enable her to collect her husband’s pension each month.”
Outside the post office in the working class district of Shobra there were long queues of women waiting to receive the monthly pensions of their deceased husbands or fathers. They proudly showed me their ID cards saying it wouldn’t be possible to receive the pensions without them. The women said the IDs had also enabled them to own land, buy and sell assets and inherit from deceased family members.”The IDs also allow the women to be politically active as having IDs will give them an opportunity to vote in elections,” Morsy said.
Qalyoubeya Governor, Dr. Adel Zayed, is proud that his governorate was the first to take part in this initiative. “It is a lot more than just having an ID,” he said, “it will give us a clearer picture of the population and the demographics in our region to help us plan better.”
Minister of State for Administrative Development, Dr. Ashraf Abdel Wahhab, explained that the campaign targets women in the most deprived areas. “It allows us to identify the women most in need and empower them. Having access to subsidised products through family ration cards will go a long way to improving their lives. It will also help the ministry gather information about these families which is vital for our database,” he said.
” Without her ID card, a simple rural woman in an impoverished district would not be able to get a butane gas cylinder at the subsidised rate of just 5 Egyptian pounds,” he noted.
But the national ID also means greater freedom of mobility and economic empowerment for the women.
” The IDs will allow the women to move freely as they will feel more secure. They will also empower women economically as the women will be able to apply for micro credit loans through the Social Development Fund. Civil society organisations can help the women improve their skills if they own small businesses or workshops. We can also help them find jobs.The number of unemployed women is four times that of men in Egypt,”said Dr. GhadaWaly, Managing Director of the Social Fund for Development.
Thousands of poor women are benefiting from the Social Funds micro credit project which has been helping women boost the income of their families.
Fatma Sha’ban, who works in the garments trade in the popular Rod El Farrag market, explained how the credit has made a difference to her life, “I got my first loan four years ago, and it meant I could expand my business and earn more money. I’m now economically independent.”
Azza Ramadan who also sells traditional clothes for women recently repaid her first loan which makes her eligible for even larger micro credit “I shall now apply for a second loan. I feel more independent financially and more empowered,” she said.
To apply for micro-credit, the potential borrower has to be 18 years old, and prove that she is serious about what the loan entails, but to have access to the funds many of them badly need to sustain their families, it is essential that the women carry ID cards.
“In very poor levels of society we are certain that if women get credit, they would use it to help improve the lives of their families, raise the standard of the entire family: better education and better health for the children,” said Waly.
The small businesses created by the women given micro-credits range from dressmaking and embroidery to small grocery stores and kiosks which enable poor women in deprived districts to put bread on the table for their families.
Organisers of the “Your ID, your rights” campaign say the project is a step forward in empowering Egyptian women socially, economically and politically. Thousands of marginilised women in Qalyoubia are now the proud owners of national IDs but it will be a while yet, before all four million women in Egypt who are without national IDs – can acquire their cards and their rights.