(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Special report on girls' education - Continued I

[Djibouti] UNICEF Representative in Djibouti Keith McKenzie (l) and Djibouti's Minister of Education Abdi Ibrahim Absieh (r)at the launch of the UNICEF State of the World Children 2004 Report in Damerjog, Djibouti [UNICEF Djibouti]


There are many constraints, however.

Some of them have to do with the schools themselves. "As UNICEF, we feel that the schools are still not what we consider child-friendly," says McKenzie, "and further still, they are not girl-friendly. I think there are certain changes that need to be made from a policy point of view to try and encourage more girls to go to school. Even the physical school itself is not really completely attractive to girls."

Deterrents mentioned by parents range from the lack of toilet facilities in some schools to the near-total absence of female teachers in rural schools. Only 30 percent of teachers are women, according to Isse, and rare are those who opt to teach outside urban centres.

The fact that in rural areas births are not always registered has also limited access to schools since children need identification documents to be enrolled. UNICEF planned to launch a study in March of the non-registration of births and its effects, McKenzie said.

The role of girls in the family is also a factor, especially in the countryside. In some cases, girls are kept at home to help their mothers with household chores, or to help bring up their younger siblings, says Koran Ahmed Aouled, who in 1996 became Djibouti’s first female legal practitioner in private practice. "The further you go from town, the fewer girls you find in school, because girls assist in the home," adds Koran, whose nine siblings all went to school.

[Djibouti] Koran Ahmed Aouled, who in 1996 became Djibouti’s first female legal practititioner in private practice.

[Djibouti] Koran Ahmed Aouled, who in 1996 became Djibouti’s first female legal practititioner in private practice.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
[Djibouti] Koran Ahmed Aouled, who in 1996 became Djibouti’s first female legal practititioner in private practice.
Koran Ahmed Aouled, who in 1996 became Djibouti’s first female legal practititioner in private practice

Access to education is another hurdle, especially in places like Campement du Lac Assal (Lake Assal Camp), a hamlet close to a salt lake roughly 100 km from Djibouti City. The camp is a collection of huts made from the stones that litter the area. It started off as a temporary shelter for nomadic herdsmen over five decades ago, according to its residents, and became a permanent camp around 1993. The nearest school was about 50 km away, residents said. As a result, of the scores of children in the hamlet and nearby settlements, none go to school.

But would they want to send their children to school if one were built nearby? IRIN asked during a visit to the hamlet in December. "Why not?" responded one woman, seemingly surprised that the question needed to be asked in the first place. Would they send the girls? "Yes, we would, and not only the girls," said another villager, 50-year-old Sultan Ali. "Even I would be willing to learn. When a car runs over one of our goats and does not stop, as happened the day before yesterday, we cannot even write down the number, so even I would go to school."


However, this attitude to education is not universal in rural Djibouti. Even when there are schools within walking distance, some parents still keep their children at home. "Those who reject [education] say it alienates people from their culture," says Isse. "They say school only trains people who have left their original culture, who do not know how to tend their livestock."

It goes even deeper than that, according to journalist Hasna Maki. "In the remotest parts of the country, people consider school an institution that makes girls say loud and clear what they feel - this in a society that is completely patriarchal, in which women have no voice. That’s the main fear, that tomorrow you’ll be faced with a woman who says ‘No, I don’t want to’ to her parents, her husband and so on."

Moreover, parents have increasingly lost faith in schools since they are no longer a sure path to social advancement, according to education officials. "Just about 15 years ago, any child who graduated from primary school could land a job," said Isse. "Now, unemployment is so high that those who have been to school cannot find work, and people see this. So they say: why waste time and money sending a child to school so that, after six or eight years, that child comes back and lives off those who remained behind in the village?"

Primary education is free in Djibouti. However, clothes and school supplies still have to be bought for the children. Not all parents can afford this in a country where about three-quarters of the population are poor. In some cases, parents can only afford to educate some of their children.

When that happens, they choose the boys, says Degmo Isaack, the secretary-general of the National Union of Djiboutian Women "The thinking is that the girl will find a husband, so it’s not really necessary to send her to school. In Djibouti and the district capitals, this mentality is changing, but in the countryside it’s still there."


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