Located in Eastern Africa, Somalia continues to persist through political unrest. Withstanding colonialism until the late 1960s, civil war, authoritarian government, extreme poverty, environmental devastation and most recently, increased activity by jihadist fundamentalist group Al-Shabaab, educational opportunities may seem bleak, especially for girls. In the face of national struggle, the quest for education persists. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Somalia.
Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Somalia
- Somalia has one of the lowest school enrollment rates in the world. In 2018, 86 percent of Somalis between the ages of 15 and 24 received no education. Eighty-one percent of girls between the ages of 6 and 11 do not attend primary school and 79 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 do not attend secondary school. The percentages for boys in the same age groups are slightly lower at 77 percent and 66 percent, respectively, showing a drastic disparity between genders. Only 1 percent of Somalis completed their post-secondary education in 2018.
- Poverty creates a huge barrier to girls’ education in Somalia. 1991 marked the end of a central school system due to political instability. Outside of Puntland and Somaliland (nearby states that offer more stability), private schools require parents to pay for their children’s school fees. However, almost 75 percent of the population lives under $2 per day. Consequently, 96 percent of Somalia’s poorest children never attend primary or secondary school while 50 percent of children belonging to Somalia’s wealthiest families receive primary education and 60 percent receive secondary educations.
- There is a huge need for resources for girls’ education in Somalia. Civil war combined with drought and flooding left school infrastructure in poor condition. Girls in particular lack adequate access to sanitation facilities and toilets, further disincentivizing girls from going to school. Additionally, there is a lack of qualified teachers in Somalia. Less than 20 percent of teachers are women.
- Close to 40 percent of children in Somalia between the ages of 5 and 14 are engaged in child labor. Almost 54 percent of these child laborers are girls, while 44.5 percent are boys. Nearly 40 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work instead of going to school and 20.2 percent of children between the ages of 7 and 14 have jobs and go to school. Child laborers often endure dangerous conditions farming, herding livestock, mining, working in construction or selling goods and services on the streets. Children also face recruitment by groups like Al-Shabaab who force or coerce boys into becoming soldiers while they target girls for domestic and sexual slavery.
- Female genital cutting (FGC) affects between 95 and 98 percent of Somali women. Girls and women who aren’t cut are likely to face discrimination and can oftentimes have difficulty finding a husband to support them financially. As a result, families will often arrange the procedure when girls are between the ages of 4 and 11. The invasive procedure often leads to marriage and motherhood, resulting in higher drop out rates for girls in higher grades.
- More than half of Somali girls are married between the ages of 15 and 18. By the age of 18, the majority of girls have undergone FGC and are expected to take on the roles of wife and mother, leaving little opportunity to be a student. The combination of high poverty rates, political instability and high fertility rates, marrying daughters to husbands who can provide for them oftentimes seems like a viable option.
- Employment opportunities for women in Somalia are limited. Women in Somalia face an unemployment rate of 74 percent compared to 61 percent for men. Somalia’s economy is driven by agriculture, making a formal education seem unnecessary, especially for women who are more likely to perform domestic work or caring for livestock.
- The Africa Educational Trust is dedicated to girls’ education in Somalia. Since 1996, the AET has focused on increasing accessibility for girls and other marginalized communities to receive an education. The organization promotes “girl-friendly” spaces, training teachers, rebuilding the school system and supporting the national curriculum framework.
- The Somali Girls Education Promotion Programme helped increase student enrollment by more than 16 percent. Over the course of 4 years, the SOMGEP seeks to increase girls’ education in Somalia by shifting gender norms, increasing girls’ participation in school, improving learning conditions and developing girls’ leadership skills. Halfway through the project in 2016, the SOMGEP recorded increases in math and literacy rates along with increased religious support for girls’ education in Somalia
- Somalia drafted and approved its National Gender Policy. Over a 10-year period beginning in 2014, the policy seeks to build schools, improve access to schools, promote free primary education, increase enrollment and retention rates for girls and “facilitat[e] development and promotion of … gender-sensitive national curriculum that includes Women, Peace, and Security education.”
Increasing access to girls’ education in Somalia faces challenges such as limited access to schools, political uncertainty, widespread poverty and gender disparity. However, 2012 ushered in an attempt to implement a central authority, including newly elected parliament members and a president who is working towards political and national security, which will hopefully begin to eradicate some of the biggest challenges facing Somalis.
– Keeley Griego