A small Eastern African country covering an area of only 23,000 sq km, Djibouti’s approach to education has wavered over the years. While in richer neighborhoods in the capital almost all children attend school, people living in shanty settlements or rural areas don’t have the same privilege. What is alarming is the state of girls’ education in Djibouti, specifically the disparity between the number of girls and the number of boys attending school.
In recent years, however, Djibouti has benefitted from American aid and is hoping to do more to turn the situation around, especially for its young female population.
Background of Girls’ Education in Djibouti
Although there was a law passed in the year 2000 making education compulsory for all children from the age of 6 to 16, almost one in three children does not receive an education.
The low number of schools outside the cities is also responsible for the big difference between the 67 percent enrollment rate in urban areas and 49 percent in rural areas. In rural areas, schools also tend to be far from homes. Therefore, parents are hesitant to compromise on the girl child’s safety.
Most schools outside the city are not equipped with enough teachers or appropriately qualified staff either. They also lack basic personal hygiene facilities and access to potable water. While parents might still overlook these challenges for their sons, social barriers make it even harder for young girls to pursue their education. Girls are often seen as prime candidates for earning an extra income through labor or child marriage; therefore, their education is often put on the back burner.
The prevailing infrastructure in schools doesn’t serve as a deterrent for this type of thinking either. There are no separate sanitation facilities for girls or safe roads for girls to travel by themselves. This is why UNICEF reports that there are only 45 percent girls enrolled in schools at the moment, while there are 55 percent boys enrolled in schools.
An Action Plan
UNICEF recognizes these social and financial challenges and is committed to improving the current situation of girls’ education in Djibouti. The fundamental goal of their program is to increase universal access for primary education and to eliminate the gender disparity in enrollment and attendance.
The Basic Education and Gender Equality Program aims to provide basic education to 93 percent of boys and girls aged between 6 and 11 years in the country. While the primary goal was to get more students into schools, the program also targeted the health of children and the quality of the education they were receiving.
In order to achieve the above, UNICEF works with several nonprofits such as Save the Children as well as government bodies such as Djibouti’s Ministry of Health to develop pilot projects targeting healthcare and education. These include polio vaccination programs provided at subsidized costs and awareness workshops about the contraction of HIV/AIDS. UNICEF has also been successful in setting up Community Development Centers, which are helping youth to network with one another, initiate projects and increase awareness and participation in their communities.
There is also hope for increased funding through a joint partnership between UNICEF, African Development Bank, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNDP, WHO and other local nonprofits.
A Change of Heart
As more young women are empowered and spread the benefits of education, more communities are looking favorably upon furthering girls’ education in Djibouti. Parents are provided additional incentive through summer Koranic classes and skills training apt for various secondary industries. This motivates them further to send their daughters to live with their relatives, who might be living closer to schools. A number of mothers are also moving with their daughters and have become big supporters of their girls receiving an education.
Things in rural areas will not remain the same for long either. USAID, WFP and Save the Children are working with UNICEF to bring nutritious meals, internet access and safer transportation for students. This collaboration is still at an early stage and its working on gauging the number of girls still in need of an education so as to draw up a more concrete list of improvements that can be brought in to change the situation.
Most households believed that their daughters could be more useful doing household chores and fetching water than studying in a classroom, but through advocacy of female education and UNICEF’s work, that mentality is slowly undergoing a change. It is a universally acknowledged fact that education can help you learn skills that may be of use in any circumstance.
When more children grow up with strong schooling, they equip themselves to join the workforce and earn higher incomes than those who do not. As a result, the quality time they spend at schools can help their families break out of the poverty cycle and help the economy grow.
While not all goals have been achieved in the education sector, the future looks promising for girls’ education in Djibouti. With more funding and international support, there is no doubt that more girls can have bright futures.
– Sanjana Subramanian