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Dr. Ghada Abdel Rahim, ‘youngest Ambassador of happiness’: Changing negative narrative of Arab women

Sunday 20-08-2017 - 02:29 PM
Director-General of Al-Bawaba Newspaper Ghada Abdel Rehim
Cairo - Despite her young age, she has an iron will to succeed in various fields. She is not only an assistant professor of psychology at Cairo University, but has created and led many initiatives that target all sections of society, especially women. She has received many Egyptian, Arab and international honors. Most important of all, she is a successful mother with three children, who is very proud of her hard-won title as: "Ambassador of Happiness". 

She is Dr. Ghada Abdel Rehim Ali,  an academic and advocate for women in the labor force, and an entrepreneur who supports initiatives that encourage innovation and creativity among young people, with whom we had this wide-ranging interview.
She launched several
She launched several campaigns aiming at raising women's awareness about health issues.
-Since when did your interest in women's issues start?

Answer: Ever since I was a little girl. I would describe myself as sociable by nature; that is why I was selected as the ‘Exemplary Student’ at Cairo University. I felt then a great sense of happiness and responsibility, in tandem, to serve others. As a female, I found it a golden opportunity for me to break the male monopoly of student activity. I was also the head of the Students Union’s Cultural Committee, as well as I had great passion for volunteering.

-Having witnessed how women are mistreated in Upper Egypt, how has your Upper Egyptian background contributed to defining what role you want to play in the fight against all forms of injustice against women and for advancement of women’s rights?

Answer: Of course, I am from Minya Governorate (some 300 km far from Cairo). In fact, my Upper Egyptian background is the prime mover of my advocacy of women’s rights. It is well known that women in Upper Egypt are marginalized to the extreme. Although everything in Upper Egyptian lifestyle is based on women's participation, starting from the economic support of her husband by working alongside him in the field, I found that she really needs social and psychological support. Thus, my campaign initiatives started to combat women's direst problems out there. The biggest problem is to fight female genital mutilation (FGM). I started my first anti-FGM campaign called, "Balash Tigrahuha (i.e. do not hurt her)" which was against female genital mutilation, and we have had a very difficult time in this campaign in particular. The practice of FGM is endemic in the south of Egypt by 95 percent according to Unicef estimates.   It is an inherited process, something that has been going on for a very long time, and basically they [upper Egyptians] want to continue it.

-You have launched several campaigns aiming at raising women's awareness about health issues. Which campaign was the most important to you? 
Answer: I launched an awareness campaign called “Hayya i.e. life” in different far-flung villages of Minya governorate in cooperation with the National Council of Oncology.  The campaign was an effort to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of breast cancer through education on symptoms and treatment. It also aimed at raise awareness about the importance of early detection of breast cancer. 
As part of the campaign, we trained the rural women leaders and entrepreneurs in those villages on how to teach their fellow women how to periodically self-detect and inform themselves about breast cancer. This experiment has been gaining much momentum by expanding to different governorates across Egypt.  Thank God, there is a very positive response. We are doing every effort to trap and treat this malignant disease.

 Initiative was named
Initiative was named for the 'Makers of Hope' Initiative Award
-You have launched several campaigns aiming at discovering the hidden potential of talented girls, especially in Upper Egypt, what these campaigns have done or accomplished so far?

Answer: I launched a campaign called, "Masryyah Bi Miyyah, i.e. One Egyptian Equals 100 Women," which is based on discovering the economic capabilities of girls in the villages, through the handicrafts they can do, such as pottery, crochet and other handicrafts, including work with textiles, moldable and rigid materials, paper, plant fibers, etc. 
But these economic potentials lack the sufficient funding and adequate marketing, which both are necessary components of success for any small business. Through our campaign, we have sponsored 100 successful projects from all governorates, and cooperated with the Egyptian Union in Europe to learn more about how to best market their products through the Egyptian House in London. 

Our campaign met with almost all the Egyptian communities in Europe and began to work on marketing Sinai and Pharaonic handicrafts which are very popular in the West. These small projects are finally gathered together in one bigger project called: "The Egyptian Street". We will soon go to London with ‘100 projects of 100 Egyptian women’ for exhibition there. The whole point of "The Egyptian Street" project is that it will be the best way to market Egyptian tourism and economy. The products will be labeled with trademark "Made in Egypt" as well as with provenance of production, that is, the governorate. 

-You have played a major role in supporting Syrian female refugees to practically overcome the difficult circumstances that they had to endure. What you have been offering in this regard?

Answer: Thank God, we have launched a campaign called "Ilaan" to help the Syrian refugees in Egypt and provide employment for them. By the way, our Syrian sisters and brothers are with us in all campaigns; they actively participate in organizing and preparing our events, because they have become part and parcel of the Egyptian society in recent years.

This came as a concrete step in our quest and keen interest to provide stable employment and adequate assistance to all sections of the Egyptian society, whether inside Egypt or abroad. I have met with a number of Syrian refugees more than once to discuss with them the talents and skills they have to work together with their Egyptian counterparts. Syrian women are really excellent cooks with unparalleled flairs to make great variety of food recipes. Thus, we seek to open up joint business, that is to be a mixture of Egyptian-Syrian foods.

Syrian children also need very strong psychological and moral support for the tragedies they have had to endure back home in recent years. We have conducted more than one session to bring these traumatized kids back to their childhood, with games and colorful colors in order to wipe violent and bloody scenes from their memory once and for all.

Arab Women Festival
Arab Women Festival honors Dr. Ghada Abdul Rehim, Sharm El-Sheikh - January 2016
- The campaign initiative "Weladha Sanadha, i.e. Her Sons Are Her Caretakers" is your most famous achievement.  

Last year, the Initiative was named for the 'Makers of Hope' Initiative Award, which was sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of the UAE. What is exactly its goals?

Answer: Well, its goal is to provide as much support as possible to talented young men and women, because our country is losing billions of dollars annually because of the brain drain to other countries. So I dream of bringing together the highly skilled, well-educated and outstanding individuals from the scientific and intellectual spectrums under one umbrella to produce creative and innovative ideas as well as spawning generations capable of leading society.

That is how the idea of ‘Her Sons Are Her Caretakers’ came into being.  In early 2015, inspired by a youth project in Nigeria, the Association of ‘Weladha Sanadha’ was founded, bringing together 100 young men and women in one place each year, aiming to generate 100 creative ideas that will benefit their community. Now, the association seeks to qualify 100 affiliate young Egyptians, out of other thousands, for the labor market. 

Today, the association supports more than 500 young Egyptians who have more than 500 scientific projects capable of supporting the development process and leading future projects. I dream of getting enough support to finance thousands of other small projects, which can reach out to 20,000 projects to support the sustainable development, economy and the future of Egypt. I consider the future of the whole Arab/Islamic world, not only Egypt, lies in the hands of its youth, who need to discover their potential talents and motivate themselves to innovate and research, besides excelling at all other arts. 

This requires a systematic and conscious planning and conscientious efforts to unearth youth energies. The initiative has garnered much support from several prominent personalities such as Egyptian scientist Dr. Farouk El-Baz and top artists and intellectuals have announced their support for the campaign.

-What are your dreams and hopes for Arab women?

Answer: I hope that Arab women will take the lead of their countries. I hope one day women will be groomed for presidency of the state or head of the cabinet as in developed countries. At the social and scientific levels, I hope to see Arab women set honorable examples both nationally and internationally. I hope to see their real efforts in various fields will be recognized and highlighted. This will definitely contribute to changing the negative image of Arab women abroad. 

Dr. Ghada honors
Dr. Ghada honors one of the girls in the Burger vehicle in recognition of her great role in breaking the stereotyping narrative

-What is about Dr. Ghada, the mother?

Answer: All thanks to God, I am a fabulous mother of three awesome children. Youssef, the eldest son is 8 years old, his junior is Mohammed, seven years old, and Ali, the youngest is five years old.  Since I gave birth to them, I have always dreamed that they will be given the opportunity to assert their own selves in their communities, beside practice the sport that they love and fulfill their vaulting ambitions. Being a mother has motivated me to keep on doing the work that I am doing in civic engagement and social fields, and to try to give young people a chance: a chance to assert themselves and discover their aptitudes. 

By the way, my children are very proud of me, and always feel excited about what I do, so much so that they call me "Super Mami", because I always meet their needs to the fullest. Thank God! All this comes nicely along with my work at the university and my leadership of a successful journalistic institution and my community work. I always keep them advised and aware of what I do, and take them with me in some off-office activities, such as orphanages and distribution of aid to the poor, so they grow up to love of helping and giving succor to others, especially the less fortunate in society.

-  Ghada Abdel Rehim as ‘youngest Happiness Ambassador’ is a title you feel proud of.  How did the name and honor come and how to go about it? 

Answer: One of the most beautiful memories of my life is when we threw a charity or fundraiser for orphans in our neighborhood. I was wearing clown costumes to entertain them. I cannot describe how happy I felt because of their happiness and I was able to draw gentle smiles on their faces. Therefore, they called me the "Ambassador of Happiness" and I am very proud of this title. I hope that God will give me the ability to make all people happy, because happiness is one of the highest and noblest meanings in the universe; and it must be taken care of. That is why the United Arab Emirates has established a ministry of happiness. Likewise, Egypt and the whole world deserves to be happy and hope-makers. 

- In the end, who is your female role model?

Answer: At the international level, Oprah Winfrey, because she went through difficult conditions and situations at the family level; because she came from a poor family and faced many personal problems, even she was raped and oppressed, she, though, selflessly went out to help other people overcome their crucibles.  She has never been selfish, but rather, a woman with iron will, and that is why I adore her. 

At the Arab level, Ambassador Mervat Tallawy, President of the Arab Women Organization, is my hero. Her great achievements at the Arab and international levels are unmatched and outstanding. At the personal and familial level, my mother and my father are both my role models, because they are the only persons in life who believe in me and have been pushing me to success, and to be who I am right now.


Editor's note: This interview originally appeared on glass-ceiling women website of Laha Magazine in Arabic. To access the full interview please click here.

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