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 History of ADEW

In the mid-1980s, a group of development professionals launched a pioneer micro-finance project in the community of traditional Cairene garbage collectors, Zaballeen. The project was the first of its kind in Egypt and was lauded for making credit accessible to a marginalized community that otherwise had no access to financial services.

During the course of the project, the project organizers recognized a unique opportunity to replicate the project's success in additional low-income areas of Cairo. They networked with other development professionals and together identified a target group that was particularly vulnerable: low-income women of female-headed households.

In 1987, these twenty men and women officially created the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW). The Association registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs as a private, voluntary, non-governmental organization, and the first ADEW office opened in the low-income area of Manshiet Nasser.

ADEW Today

Since its beginning as a micro-credit organization, ADEW has extended both its field sites and its services as it has grown. In addition to credit programs, ADEW today offers literacy programs, health services, and legal awareness seminars and operates from 15 offices in 5 different areas with a staff of 200 members.

From the beginning, ADEW has recognized the importance of empowering female heads of households. When ADEW was founded in 1987, it was the first feminist NGO in Egypt to deal specifically with this issue. Over the past 17 years, ADEW has emerged as both an influential grassroots organization and a leading advocate for women's rights.

 Field Sites

ADEW is active in some of the poorest areas in Cairo and its suburbs, namely, Manshiet Nasser, Masr El-Qadeema, Dar Essalam, El-Gamalia, Shoubra, Qalyoubiya and Gharbiya.

Manshiet Nasser, for example, is a squatter community on the outskirts of the city that sprung up in the 1960s. The population has grown to more than 400,000 inhabitants making Manshiet Nasser one of the largest and most populated squatter communities in Cairo. A large section of the area does not have access to running water, sewage systems or electricity. Most of the roads in Manshiet Nasser are unpaved and too narrow for normal vehicle traffic. The severe slopes and uneven changes in elevation mean that large sections of the District (above 85 meters) do not have access to basic services such as running water and sewage systems. Even at lower levels, potable water is limited and a majority of people rely on pit latrines and old septic tanks and obtain their electricity through illegal taps. The area was once used as a landfill site, so the lower quarry levels are filled with centuries of refuse, resulting in poor foundation conditions vulnerable to leaking sewer and water systems. Health problems arising from the faulty sewage system, as well as from poor nutrition, inadequate vaccinations, and the toxic fumes produced by the burning of refuse in the garbage collectors' area are common.

Government programs do not extend to squatter areas yet and relatively few other NGOs and associations work there. 40% of all households in the Manshiet Nasser are female-headed households, 40% of the overall inhabitants are illiterate, and according to a study conducted by one of the NGOs working in the area, only 15% of children over the age of six are enrolled in schools.

Manshiet Nasser is divided into the upper part of the hill, inhabited by the Zabaleen (the garbage collectors), and the lower part of the hill, inhabited by a working-class community mainly employed in small informal businesses or as petty vendors. Most residents are immigrants from Upper Egypt. Recent downturns in the Egyptian economy, together with an increase in governmental attempts to restrict the informal sector have had a major impact on the already vulnerable economy in Manshiet Nasser causing the unemployment rate to rise in the area