The COVID-19 pandemic affects girls and boys differently, bringing additional challenges to girls and young women.
In Egypt, measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus have been introduced including closing airports and gyms, as well as suspending classes at schools and universities. People are encouraged not to go outside unless necessary and a nightly curfew is in place from 8pm to 5am.
For many girls and women, the measures have seen them become virtually housebound, with many staying in their homes most of the time. If food or other essential items are needed, it is usually the men who go out.
This confinement is having a negative effect on their emotional wellbeing, increasing their burden of household chores and putting them at greater risk of gender-based violence.
Taking the lead
But 21-year-old Basma, a young woman from a rural community in Qalyubiyya, decided to challenge the traditional gender stereotypes and through her volunteer work has become an inspiring example of the positive change that girls and young women can achieve.
I thought I would use the puppet show to communicate easy to understand messages in a light-hearted manner.
“I see opportunity in each challenge,” she says. “The COVID-19 pandemic gave me the opportunity to develop my skills and acquire new ones so that I can continue raising awareness in a way that most appeals to people.”
From a young age, Basma has been involved in community development projects. With each new activity Basma took part in, her skills developed further, and she became increasingly aware of the most effective ways of influencing attitudes and creating positive change in her community. She is now a member of Plan International’s youth advisory panel.
Working together with other young people, Basma has participated in many youth-led initiatives to tackle issues affecting girls in her community, particularly early marriage and female genital mutilation, using innovative tools like shadow theatre and interactive plays.
Using art to convey serious messages
Motivated to do more, Basma and 24 other young people established the Karakovia group which uses art for development. Together with the group, Basma creates different art performances, including puppet shows, shadow theatre and musical performances which are designed to convey serious messages in a fun way.
When the COVID-19 outbreak happened, Basma wanted to continue her work but was faced with the challenge of reaching people now inside their homes.
She says, “I found that social media was filled with long posts about COVID-19 prevention which many people might not be interested in reading. So, I thought I would use the puppet show, the tool I love the most, to communicate easy to understand messages in a light-hearted manner that contain the right information. And this is what I do.”
Basma began broadcasting weekly puppet show videos using her Facebook account. The positive response to the videos motivated Basma to make more videos where she tackles other issues not related to COVID-19, such as positive parenting.
Puppet shows become a success
“My videos are being received very positively by people. The number of shares, comments and reactions drives me to do my best so that these videos can be as beneficial as possible. What thrills me more is that I have seen other young people, particularly young women, be inspired to do similar initiatives via social media. This is very positive thing,” says Basma.
Creating a puppet theatre at home was a new experience for Basma. Being careful to adhere to the precautionary measures of not going out unless for urgent matters, Basma surfed the internet, watching many videos on how to make a puppet theatre by hand.
“This was such a rich experience for me. I learnt how to make puppets and everything I needed for the puppet show by hand, using items I have at home. I also write the scripts myself. This made me so happy, as I have learnt new knowledge and skills,” says Basma.
“My message to girls and young women during this period, is to use this time to recognise your skills and acquire new ones. Never let anything stop you from achieving your dream. Work on yourself and learn new things that will benefit you in your future,” says Basma.