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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Sesame power for Egyptian girls
Puppets and people
TV messages have a broad reach in Egypt
By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

Furry puppets have become the latest weapon in a battle for gender equality in Egypt, as a specially-created version of the popular American children's show, Sesame Street, prepares to go on air.

Gone are Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. In their place: the bright pink girl-muppet with big ambitions, Khokha (which means Peach), the gentle and patient nature-loving boy-muppet, Nimnim, and Filfil (or Pepper).

We are trying to tell the viewers that it is okay for a girl to have dreams and to go into education and become very important

Executive producer Amr Koura
Their task is to deliver messages on health, hygiene and environmental issues.

But above all, they are designed to inspire girls, in a country where, according to the United Nations, many living in rural areas still drop out of school as young as eight or nine, and where only just over 2% of MPs are women.

"I want young kids who are the future of Egypt to see that girls and boys are equal," says Dina Amin, the 28-year-old head writer of the series.

The message is delivered with humour. One sketch shows four-year-old Khokha going to the library to find books on what she wants to do when she grows up.

Changing perceptions

Humour is used to get the point across
She is considering being an engineer, doctor, or pilot. The books are so heavy that Khokha, struggling under their weight, asks for yet another - on how to be a bodybuilder.

"We're trying to change perceptions of gender roles," says executive producer, Amr Koura.

"Khokha wants to be someone very important and through this we are trying to tell the viewers that it is okay for a girl to have dreams and to go into education and become very important."

Khokha has big ambitions
The series, called Alim Al-Simsim or "Sesame's World," has been produced by an Egyptian company, Karma Productions, working with Sesame Street's original creators, the New York-based Children's Television Workshop.

It is funded by the United States through its foreign aid arm, USAid, as part of an agreement with the Egyptian Government to help promote girls' development.

Positive images

In a country where less than half of women are literate, television has almost universal reach. But feminists argue that it often reinforces stereotypes.

"The media still projects images of women that are not really very positive," says Fatma Khafagy of the United Nation Children's Fund.

Puppets with computer
The message is that women can be equal at work
The muppets' mission is to change that.

"We're trying to showing girls doing things that are usually linked to boys - for instance, learning to fly," says programme producer, Amr Koura.

"And at the same time we're showing boys baking cakes."

Kokha and crowd are due to make their debut on the Egyptian television screen in the next few weeks.

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26 Apr 00 | Africa
UN appeal for girls' education
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