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.
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 12 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.
ADEW seeks to improve the status of women through the following goals:
- Economic empowerment by making credit and income generating opportunities accessible to low-income women.
-Legal empowerment by assisting low-income women with obtaining identification cards and other legal papers and by raising awareness about women's legal rights.
- Social empowerment by teaching women literacy
- Empowerment of marginalized adolescent girls who have dropped out of school by improving their skills and building their self-esteem.
- Improvement in the status of women's health in low-income areas, and an increase in women's awareness of public health issues.
- Publicizing women's rights issues by lobbying policy makers, the press, and the Egyptian population at large.
ADEW believes that the status of Female Heads of Households (FHHs), a traditionally neglected and disempowered segment of Egyptian society, can only be enhanced through social, legal and economic empowerment. By providing women with economic opportunities and working as mediators between women and various governmental and private agencies, ADEW delivers women's voice to the national consciousness.