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Members of a community in a small village in Menufiya rejected many notions related to reproductive health.

They labeled some ideas, for example that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was a harmful practice, as “western” and “blasphemous,” according to Salma Abdel Moneim, a trainer on reproductive health topics.

“The village is very conservative, so it was a challenge to earn their trust,” she said.

Abdel Moneim works as a trainer at one of the Population Awareness Clubs (PACs), which operate in different Youth Centers around the country, hosting different awareness activities around population issues for young people using different tools.

Under the “Addressing Gaps in Reproductive Health” project, UNFPA and the Canadian Embassy in Egypt work to empower women and engage men on family planning as well as address barriers women and girls face in accessing quality health services including social norms and behaviors.

The trainers at the PAC agreed to solicit the help of one of the community leaders, well-respected and trusted by women and girls in the village.

“We talked to her and explained the topics we want to discuss,” Abdel Moneim said, “We told her we want to tackle everyday problems we face in our community so we can live a better life.”

The community leader started coming to awareness-raising sessions at the PAC, bringing along with her a number of girls. The girls then started to bring their mothers.

Basma Walid started attending the sessions two months ago, when she heard about them from her relatives.

“I started learning about topics I had little information about, such as adolescent health and the harms of child marriage,” the 21-year-old said, “A lot of the mothers who attend with us learned a lot about how to deal with their children in the age of adolescence.”

Walid goes to attend the sessions with her sister and cousins, as well as neighbors.

“People started telling each other and the number of attendees started growing,” she said.

The PACs host awareness sessions around family planning, child marriage, FGM, adolescent health and gender equality.

“We started off with only three people in a session and now we have over 30 people,” Abdel Moneim said.

Abdel Moneim said the trainers built a “bridge of trust” with the women and girls who attend the sessions. Being from the same community, she said she went through many of the same problems.

“I spoke their language and shared their problems,” she said, “I wasn’t telling them what to do, I was just giving them the information they needed to make their own decisions.”

Abdel Moneim recalls sessions that addressed sexual harassment, where she allowed the topic to be debated among the attendees.

“We were discussing whether sexual harassment is warranted by what a woman is wearing, and the attendees were debating it among themselves until they came to the conclusion that a woman’s clothing is irrelevant,” she explained.

The PACs also engage men and boys to raise through sports activities, tackling issues such as gender equality as well as other reproductive health topics.

“At first they were reluctant to listen and learn about this information from a woman,” Abdel Moneim said, “but I eventually earned their trust by telling them about my own brother for example for them to understand that I relate to them.”

Now, Walid says she has enough information about reproductive health to spread around.

“I talk to my aunt about how she should handle her son who is an adolescent,” she said, “Whenever any relevant topic from the issues I learned comes up, I immediately intervene.”