By Caroline Alcock, British Consul General in Alexandria
International Women’s Day on 8 March is a good opportunity to reflect on the inspirational women I have met during my 18 months in Alexandria, and the important role they play in this in this wonderful city.
I have been privileged throughout my time in Alexandria to meet many wonderful women working to promote arts, music, creativity and dance; to protect the city’s rich heritage and to enhance its academic and cultural life. Through a British Council project, Premier Skills, I have met young female football coaches, teaching citizenship and inspiring leadership in their communities through sport. Last month, I met an impressive group of young people at the launch of the model UK parliament, a new Alexandria-based project to provide opportunities for debate and hands-on-experience of accountability and transparency. It was moving and inspiring to see so many young people, including women, working to develop their own skills for the benefit of their country, and hear their aspirations for the future.
Earlier this week, I attended a graduation ceremony of the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport – a world-class Alexandria-based institution. Over 200 young people were graduating that day, a mix of young men and women from across the Arab world. They were all impressive, talented young people, whose enthusiasm, skills and knowledge will surely help build a better future. But what struck me most was how many of the top performers were young women, full of confidence and ambition.
The graduation ceremony also gave me chance to meet Alexandria’s impressive new Deputy Governor, Soad El-Kholy, as well as female members of faculty at the Academy , who I am sure are great role models for their students.
Before I even arrived in Alexandria, I had heard about the work of Rawya El-Saadany, an incredibly impressive and committed lady, who manages a local project to combat child-trafficking and exploitation. Over the past three years, she has helped more than 70 girls. And one of the highlights of my time in Alexandria has been a visit to Banat El-Noor Association for the visually-impaired, where I was inspired by the beauty, confidence and ambition of the young women I met.
And it’s not just Alexandria: I went to Mansoura recently, where I met the talented and charming Zeinab Abo ElNaga, who was awarded the International Woman in Chemistry for 2011. In Port Said, I enjoyed visiting a factory belonging to a UK company – SE Wiring – where the majority of the workforce is young women.
One of my own personal heroines, from long before I became Consul General here, is an Alexandrian – Heba Kholeif – who won a UK Government scholarship to study a Masters degree in special education at Birmingham University. I was on the panel that interviewed her for the scholarship, and I have never forgotten her bravery, dignity and strength of spirit as she talked about life as a visually-impaired single mother. We have daughters the same age, and I was really touched by her determination to ensure that her daughter was not disadvantaged by her mother’s disability. My view is that her daughter is truly blessed to have Heba as a mother. She obtained her Masters, and is now back in Alexandria, where she has set up an early intervention unit for visually impaired children with multiple disabilities, especially autism. She is, quite simply, one of the most inspiring women I have ever met, and I dedicate this Women’s Day message to her.
Caroline Alcock has been the British Consul General in Alexandria since August 2013. She has spent 15 years of her diplomatic career in Egypt, and is one of the UK’s most experienced female diplomats in the Middle East.