Challenges to Girls' Education!
Access to education was non-existent back in the early 90s in Somalia. Few years later, people who flee from the civil war, realized that going back to Mogadishu is a distant dream. Therefore, with that realization, schools started to re-open in our town.
My mother always taught us at home or hired a tutor for us, but it was exciting to have the ability to go to school. For me this was a cool new experience. I was 7 years old when I was registered to first grade and I remember being overwhelmingly psyched. However, unfortunate events occurred during that week. My father got sick and just days later he passed away unexpectedly due to mysterious liver problems and my mother was left to care for 7 children on her own. Although, this proved to be an impossible task, my mother never comprised our education and made sure that school comes first no matter what. Fortunately, my uncles and aunts also chipped in and gave us financial support when needed so that my mother won’t be alone in this ordeal.
I loved school and I was extremely good at it, and it’s mainly because of my mother and growing up in a household where education was treasured and good grades were rewarded gave me the drive I needed to push the limits and excel in my studies.
Unfortunately, Somali culture favors boys and doesn’t recognize girls as equals, and this is a dilemma faced by many girls. Despite the fact that there have been a lot of advocacy and outreach programs, it has not seized to exist in the rural communities. This is a specific challenge for girls who grow up in rural communities but humanitarian organizations and the government are involved in delivering awareness campaigns to eradicate the notion that sending a girl to school is a waste of resources.
However, in my opinion, the most challenging barrier that girls are facing in Somalia when it comes to education is lack of mentors that help them boost their self confidence and lack of role models they can look up to in the work field. In cities, girls are sent to school, and it’s apparent at the primary level that the class is proportional in numbers. However, as they reach the middle school, girls start to drop in numbers and when they reach the secondary level they make up only 5% of the graduates.
Girls feel alienated in schools, since almost 99% of teachers are male teachers and they are not trained to understand teenage girls. Moreover, the school environment also unintentionally favors boys because all extra curricula activities and sports are only directed towards boys.
Even back in early 00s when I was in secondary school, our teachers were all male and they did not have the capacity to motivate young girls and most girls felt awkward and out of place. The school had only less than 1% female teachers and they taught the primary level. The only session we had with these ladies was occasionally on Thursday mornings to provide mentoring programs for us.
In my community, girls are very shy and they don’t express their feelings and views in public. In primary level, girls are active but the environment teaches them to be otherwise when they become teenagers. Most girls shy away from expressing their ideas because of lack of self esteem, and I was not immune to this. I was so quiet and shy, and although I wanted to have the confidence to speak out and share my views, unfortunately I was so intimidated and never dared to utter a word in public. I had zero self confidence despite being an excellent student. It was after going abroad that I gained the confidence to speak up and have my voice heard. My experience in Malaysia forced me to come out of the shell and blossom to the outspoken person I am today.
Women are unable to enter the workforce due to cultural biases and inequality. This affects the girls’ perspective and attitude towards education, and they lose confidence in education and become discontent and unmotivated to continue any further. Dropping out of school directly leads to teen marriages which eventually end in divorces.
I am currently engaged in an initiative (with other female activists) to help girls overcome these barriers to education. We believe the key to defeat these major challenges is to provide mentorship programs that include self esteem and self confidence building activities, and inspiring young ladies to continue their education and instill in them the passion and drive to succeed.
We hope our government and international organizations will also play their role in ensuring fairness and equality in employment, and supporting female entrepreneurs.