Street children defining ‘street children’

All names have been changed so as to protect the identities of the research participants.

During my research with (former) female street children in Cairo, I did not just ask the girls about their own experiences on and off the street, but also about their opinion on the street children discourse itself and about their own conceptual understanding of ‘street children’, ‘street boys’ or ‘street girls’. By doing so, I tried to do more than simply listen to the children’s ‘stories’ (I have a problem with this term since it suggests the existence of one linear story that can be told and listened to, whereas the outcome of my interviews with the children painted a very different image). My objective was to include them in the research process itself. They were the experts on a topic I was interested in, and by consulting them, discussing with them and benefitting from their expertise, the children became research participants, even co-researchers, in the actual sense of the term. (more…)

When street children lie

All names have been changed as to protect the identities of the research participants.

On my first day of research at the shelter for female street children, I met Hala (15), one of the first girls willing to give me an in-depth interview. Although she did not allow me to record our conversation, she talked with me about her life on and off the street for more than two hours. Hala was not shy at all, but rather very outspoken and talkative. It was a great interview, or it would have been, if there had not been this one problem: I felt that Hala was lying. (more…)

Sleeping in the street: “I could stay awake for three days”

All names have been changed as to protect the identities of the research participants.

When I began interviewing female street children about their lives in the street,  I was interested to learn how they spend their days, what sort of violence they might exert or be subjected to, how they make a living and what they are afraid of. My questions addressed their day- and night-time activities in the street. It was only after a few weeks that I became aware that I had not sufficiently focused on the hours during which street children sleep.

Most of us are the most vulnerable when asleep. Our eyes are closed, our ears do not pay much attention to what is going on around us. Being so vulnerable, we need to be safe to go to sleep. This is why, although we use the street on a daily basis and we are not afraid, we would never consider sleeping in it. We resort to a safe place, to our home, where our vulnerability does not subject us to immediate danger. Children who sleep in the street rarely have this choice. (more…)

Redefining my role as a researcher

All names have been changed as to protect the identities of the research participants.

The purpose of my research was to study the living circumstances of female street children in Egypt. I wanted to understand how girls live in the street, what methods they develop to deal with existing societal norms, and how they challenge and shape these norms themselves. In order to find answers to these questions, I interviewed girls in the street and girls who had left the street and who were living in the shelter of an Egyptian street children NGO.

In order to prepare my research, and to prepare myself for it, I had read extensively about the ethical issues of doing academic research with children. With the aid of the literature, as well as my own experiences with street children and people doing research with them, I identified certain rules that I wanted to stick to, and that I shared repeatedly with every girl who became part of my research: “I will never push you to give me information. Don’t tell me anything you don’t want to talk about. You can end our work at any time, and it will be totally okay. There is no right and wrong for me. There are no such things as ‘aib [sinful] or ‘haram [forbidden in Islam] in my understanding. There are no good and bad answers. You are the expert, and I am here to learn from you. Anything you teach me is helpful and I thank you for it.”

(more…)

Interview about street children in Egypt with Nile TV International on April 19, 2013

This is an interview I gave during my research on female street children in Cairo. There is also a second and a third part of the interview.

Published by the Daily News Egypt on November 27, 2013. The weak, the strong and the boys: Female street children in Egypt.

My article on the ways female street children develop to live in the gendered space of the street, and how these methods effectively gender the street, was published today by the Daily News Egypt. Please read an excerpt below.

Girls are either pitied for not being able to conform to the gender norms, or despised for the exact same reason. The girls’ own participation in the creation of their roles is not acknowledged. Instead, girls are viewed as passive victims of the circumstances, or of the dominating understanding of gender norms. My research with female street children in Cairo has shown a quite different image. Girls are not just helplessly exposed to some stiff gender norms, but they cope with them, challenge them and shape them themselves. In order to try to understand the living circumstances of girls in the street, one has to ask what girls actually do with the gender norms. How do they perceive them? How do they challenge them? How does a girl in the street perform being a girl in the street? With the aid of the girls themselves, I identified three modes in which girls in the street live and operate: The weak girl, the strong girl and the boy.

Read the full article here.

No such thing as ‘street children’

There are children living in the urban streets of developing and emerging countries. They play in the street, they eat there and fight, they fall in love. There are many facets to their lives that are invisible to the eye of the pedestrian, or to the person driving by in their car. When we see children in the street, we can only identify their most obvious characteristics: They are in the street, they are dirty, they beg. Since these are the only features of street children that are visible, the children are often reduced to these factors. As dirty beggars in the street, they lose their individuality and become a homogeneous mass people pity, despise or are indifferent about.

(more…)

Published by the Daily News Egypt on November 17, 2013. Street children: Gender matters.

My article on female street children in Egypt and their gender-specific experiences was published by the Daily News Egypt on November 17, 2013. Below you can see an excerpt of the article.

Interestingly, we mostly discuss street children as if they are a homogeneous group, as if they have no age or gender, although it is evident that the experiences of a 5-year old boy in the street strongly differ from those of a teenage girl. Street children are not ageless, and they are not genderless. They have different backgrounds and experiences, different problems and certainly, different needs. Our discussions about street children become much more interesting when they become more specific: when we talk about working children, street leaders, drug dealers and addicts, or about street girls. When these discussions become more differentiated, more meaningful questions are asked: what does a street girl experience because she is in the street and what does she experience because she is a girl? How does she deal with these gender-specific differences? How does she shape them herself?

(more…)

7 horribly wrong things about the first book ever published on female street children in Egypt

ImageA few days ago, I became aware that, very recently (October 2013), a book had been published about female street children in Egypt. I did not hesitate and immediately ordered the book. After all, I had spent a long time researching this topic, and similar published work had to date been non-existent. While ordering “Il Binait Dol – Egypt’s Hidden Shame” by Gwenllian Meredith, I felt sceptical about the title which is copied from a documentary about female street children and which gives the false impression of a connection between the two.

When the package arrived, I realised that this was not a book that went through the process of peer-reviewing and editing, and that was published by a publisher, but that the author had printed and distributed it herself. Also, the layout was terrible. So what, I thought to myself, I cared about the content. I was looking forward to learn more about street girls, and to be able to refer to a new piece of (semi-academic) literature.

(more…)

Street children: Samira’s story and the inappropriateness of the ‘victim’ terminology

All names have been changed as to protect the identities of the research participants.

Samira (16) spent most years of her life on and off the street. Samira’s sister, Fatima (20), is older than Samira and she has a mental disability. The sisters’ first encounter with the street took place at a very young age, when Samira was still an infant, and when the girls’ parents had already been divorced.

“Mama left me in the street when I was a baby. […] When she left me, she called my father. She told him that he could have me now because he always wanted me. Both my parents wanted me but they didn’t want my sister. So she left us in the street and told him where to find us.”

(more…)

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amiraelfeky

amiraelfeky

My name is Amira El Feky. I earned a master’s degree in Globalisation and Development Studies from Maastricht University, where I researched and wrote a thesis about the gendered experience of female street children in Egypt. Previously, I worked as a project officer at a Cairo-based NGO that provides services for street children. I currently work at Transparency International UK. If you have any questions or comments, you can always email me at elfeky.amira@gmail.com. You can also find me on Twitter @MiaElFeky.

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