Ahead of the 3rd Narrative Summit 2018, taking place on 28th October, Daily News Egypt interviewed one of the panellists, UNFPA Representative in Egypt Aleksandar Sasha Bodiroza, responsible for leading the entire team and driving all elements of UNFPA operations in Egypt.
The Narrative PR Summit 2018 is the first conference of its kind to take place in Egypt.
It first started in 2016 when, CC Plus—the multi-disciplinary corporate communications firm— decided to take a leap and organise an unprecedented public relations event for the Egyptian market. Ministers, global professionals from various fields, and opinion-makers are participating in the event to discuss their distinct stories, lessons, and experiences that can create a bank of first-class knowledge available for everyone and anyone in Egypt.
For over 20 years, Bodiroza’s pioneering work focused on youth empowerment as well as women’s sexual and reproductive health in developing countries. He is a tenacious and vocal advocate for inclusive reproductive health, the empowerment of women and young people, and ensuring that no one is left behind.
During the interview, Bodiraza explained the relation between public relations and social development, and he also discussed social challenges of Egypt, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
First of all, can you tell us why it was important for you to participate in PR Narrative summit 2018?
The summit is very important. I am not a PR expert but as a physician and development expert so I can talk a lot about social issues, from where my motivation came to participate.
You know when you think about Egypt. Some people will remember pyramids, Luxor, few will remember Aswan, others will think about the beautiful beaches of Sharm El-Sheikh or Hurghada. I personally throughout my life was impressed with Naguib Mahfouz and Egyptian literature.
Very few Egyptian in the world will remember that Egypt had a central place in development. Almost twenty-five years ago, Egypt hosted a landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). ICPD Programme of Action was remarkable in its recognition that reproductive health and rights , as well as women empowerment and gender equality, are cornerstones of population and development programmes. So, that why I really want to remind everybody that there is much more for Egypt to be proud of and to promote.
In 2018 we will celebrate the 25 years from ICPD conference which was held here in Cairo and that is exactly my motivation to basically remind everybody that at late time Egypt was a leading the entire world in telling importance of – women empowerment, human rights, family planning, focusing on choice. Choice that can rapidly improve the well-being of women and girls, transform societies, communities, families and accelerate global development.
Since the summit is focusing on PR which business-oriented, how will you address social issues of Egyptian society through it?
Right, PR is mostly business-oriented. PR helps you to sell a product, but it has a role, not only PR, there is a space for everybody to contribute to Egypt development.
The agenda that Egyptian government put forward for 2030, this beautiful document vision 2030, is very ambitious, that aims to help Egypt transition ionto group of the most advanced countries in the world.
That is not going to be possible if people believed that it is an exclusive job for the government only, Everybody, even private sector has a role to play by contributing to development towards the vision of 2030. That way they will also make Egypt better place for their business and by promoting investment in the PR in corporate responsibility they will also invest in their own business.
So it is very simple. Yes, they are using PR to sell products but they also can use it to change the attitudes, address social norms, to help the company to open the door for workers to change their norms especially that the challenges Egypt is currently facing are serious and cannot be easily addressed.
How can PR expert can make social development awareness?
Using his skills, creativity, and talents. Instead of selling or promoting the products, they can switch and sell the ideas of development. For example, tell people why Female genital mutilation (FGM), should be banned or tell people why early marriage is a threat. They are so many talents in PR industry in Egypt and they are really excelling when it comes to selling touristic and historic products of Egypt, thus they can do the same by selling the idea of development; promoting the well-being of women and girls, their enjoyment of their rights and full equality and the life choices that they are free to make.
Is there any agenda for youth empowerment during the summit to engage in PR?
Yes. the core of our mandate is youth. 62% of the Egyptian population are below the age of 29. We do have separate pillar about adolescent and youth and through strategic partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports we are helping to transform the lives of those young people by promoting consistent messages : No to FGM, NO to early marriage and Yes to Family Planning. Just this summer together with the Ministry of Youth and sports we trained above 7,300 young people from both genders about FGM and early marriage across 27 governorates. Currently, we are launching with ministry a project called Egypt destination 2030 that aims to reach over 11 million young people in all 27 governorates of Egypt. This new initiative will be conducted under the auspices of His Excellency, Minister Dr. Ashraf Sobhy.
Moving to one of the main duties of your organization, family planning which is also currently on the top of the government’s agenda. Can you tell us what is the best way to apply success family planning projects?
When they ask me what kind of country model similar to Egypt we can use in order to address high fertility rates, and replicate family planning programs, I answer how about you look at Egypt? Not that lo9ng ago, Egypt did something extraordinary by reducing fertility rates from 5.3 to 3.0. That was extraordinary by any measures. And how you did it? By putting together family planning programme that had the CHOICE at its core. Government was fully committed and scaled up family programme through the entire country.
Family planning is all about making real choice by individuals and couples whether and when to have children, and how many children to have. Where people are able to make these choices for themselves, they tend to choose smaller families.
Looking at the CAPMAS and NPC (National Population Council) figures you can see that the situation in upper Egypt is more challenging with higher fertility rates than in lower Egypt. SO we need to localize our responses to ensure success.
Some parliament members suggested on drafting a bill to prevent the third child from receiving government support to limit population growth, what do you think?
As I already mentioned its all about choice. Transition to lower fertility rates began with individuals and their right make choices about number, timing and spacing of families. And thats what we are doing together with our partners in Ministry of Health and Population. I am afraid that penalizing families with already large families can push them even more below the poverty line.
From your experience in Egypt, do you believe that tradition and religion played a role in hindering the progress of any social programs?
So actually this question answered the previous one. The legal framework cannot effectively address social norms.
How can social media and education help in addressing major social issues?
Social media has a power in mobilization and making a change but I don’t find it as the only medium for dialogue because we have to connect with the community about empowering women, early marriage and family planning
These issues cannot be solved through social media only, we have to go from village to village to talk to people. Social media can engage and help but it still has its limitation