Nawal Mostafa

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2013


This profile was prepared when Nawal Mostafa was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.
The New Idea
Nawal is organizing the first efforts in Egypt to change the treatment of female prisoners as well as their young children living in prison. She has identified a special group of female prisoners whom she calls “poverty prisoners,” they are imprisoned not necessarily due to a criminal record but because they had become victims of poverty and debt with loans they were unable to pay. Nawal’s work aims to not only improve conditions in female prisons, but to help rehabilitate inmates and their children during their term and lessen the stigma attached to poverty prisoners on release.

Nawal has successfully navigated the prison system—one of Egypt’s most difficult institutions to penetrate—to implement new laws and regulations in female prisons. Moreover, by breaking the barrier between the outside world and the prison, she is paving the way for other citizen organizations (COs) to enter the prison and provide assistance to this invisible population. Nawal has successfully implemented reform within the prison and legal system, including an agreement with the courts to grant a special provision to the law—in the case of poverty prisoners—cases can be revisited and appealed after a person has been convicted. This applies to cases with a minor infraction and no prior criminal record and creates a precedent that can be applied to any prisoner.

Nawal is leading policy reform efforts, while changing the public’s perception that all prisoners are alike, and connecting women with interventions to address their poverty needs before it results in further imprisonment. Nawal has designed a process for family reconciliation with prisoners one year before their release to ensure a safe integration into society after release. With the transition in Egypt’s government and a new constitution, Nawal’s policy work is crucial and her contribution to public discourse has already stimulated policy reform and spread cultural awareness on an issue that was once hidden from the public. Her work is being widely replicated in Egypt’s female prisons and has received significant attention throughout the Arab world.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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