Putting Passion into Practice to Support Women and Girls Everywhere: A Spotlight on Menna El Shiati, Programme Advisor
Seth Davis, Programme Advisor, Community Systems Foundation
As a third year student at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, Menna El Shiati first learned that nearly 8 out every 10 women in her country undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). As she discovered more about the mental and physical trauma caused, she was compelled to dig deeper in an investigative research paper, which fundamentally changed her perception on the treatment of girls and women in Egypt and beyond.
With this focus, Menna attended Queen Mary University, London for her Master’s degree in International Relations nd wrote a thesis on “The Politics of Female Genital Mutilation - Case Study: Egypt” After completing her studies, Menna knew there was more to be done than simply writing papers. She wanted to affect positive change in her country.
With this goal in mind, Menna started her career with the Gender Unit at the UNFPA Arab States Regional Office (ASRO) as the Regional Programme Coordinator for UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program on Female Genital Mutilation.
Throughout her career within the UN system, Menna worked across the region to support national and regional efforts towards the abandonment of FGM. This included the development of a regional Faith-Based Network where prominent religious figures from Djibouti, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia worked together to eliminate the practice of FGM within their constituencies. The result of this incredible work was documented on YouTube, showcasing the active contributions of faith leaders from the Arab States region.
As the Regional Programme Coordinator, Menna organized a regional forum that brought together 90 participants from the Arab Region and beyond, including academics, religious figures, midwife associations, the media, doctors syndicates, and government officials. At this event Midwife Associations and Doctors Syndicates from the region, publicly declared the abandonment of medicalization of FGM. Menna also represented UNFPA ASRO as a featured speaker at the European Forum to Build Bridges on FGM in Belgium and facilitated a theater workshop aimed at changing social attitudes towards FGM in the region.
While Menna appreciated her time working within UNFPA, she realized the importance of data on Gender-based Violence and the overarching need to strengthen data collection and data analysis for evidence-based programming and advocacy; informed policy and program design and implementation in FGM initiatives. . This motivated her to transition from a role within the Joint Programme to become a team member at Community Systems Foundation (CSF)
As a Programme Advisor at CSF, Menna is directly involved in project implementation in various sectors around the world and is actively expanding CSF’s portfolio of projects throughout Africa and the Middle East. Initially, Menna focused on Gender-related M&E projects. This allowed her to continue to work with the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM, but from a technical perspective, rather than a programmatic one.
For several years now, Menna has been the CSF focal person supporting the Joint Programme in monitoring and reporting on its programmatic priorities. She has contributed to the training of over 50 focal persons from the 17 countries supported by the Joint Programme on the use of Data For All (DFA) Monitoring and to the development of data stories that use evidence to understand the impact of FGM.
Menna’s passion for gender programming remains, but her areas of work have expanded. This has enabled her to build CSF’s project portfolio in the Arab region, contributing to projects on a national scale in Jordan and regionally with the League of Arab States (LAS). At home in Egypt, Menna is leading a project where she is supporting the implementation of DFA Monitoring in the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MoSS), Egypt.
While this project is still in early stages, the results of the work will enable government officials to promote accountability, collaboration and transparency as they work together to achieve Ministerial objectives and the broader Egypt 2030 Agenda.
Over the last year, Menna has also supported the implementation of OpenEMIS in Jordan. While this presented a new challenge, it enabled Menna to grow in her ability to implement large scale and complex projects and gain insight into the education context of Jordan and the sector more broadly.
Similarly, Menna spearheads a partnership with LAS to deploy DFA Monitoring to track regional and national efforts in combating multidimensional poverty. Now in its third year of collaboration, Menna’s support has built the capacity of focal points responsible for administering the country level systems.
As Menna continues to expand CSF’s project portfolio in the Middle East and North Africa, she hopes to increase opportunities to deliver necessary capacities to those responsible for planning and monitoring support true development and growth of countries within the region.