A Challenge To Girls Education In Ethiopia
PANA- April 7, 2000 by Yohannes Ruphael
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) - The day to day lives of most Ethiopian girl-students are increasingly becoming precarious.
According to statistics, out of 30 million women in the country, only 16.7 percent are considered to be literate. Although education is open to girls, the negative social attitudes against women, and educating them in particular, is still being reflected in the educational system, according to views expressed at a recent meeting of the Women Educationalist Association.
"The lessons in the textbooks are either discriminatory or gender insensitive. Some titles and stories in the textbooks promote biased attitude of the society," Anebesu Biazin, an educationalist said.
Although Ethiopia's education and training policy stresses the need to sensitise society about the importance of girls' education, it has nevertheless a long way to go in making its dream come true.
"It is all fine on paper but trying to change the attitude of our folks, especially those in the rural areas, is an uphill battle," Mesfine Alemu, a retired teacher, said.
The majority of girls fail to attend school because of early marriages, pregnancies and sexual harassment.
"I left school because I was pregnant," 18-year-old Martha Bezu, who now works in a bar, said.
The problem of poverty and that of girl students have always been acute in Ethiopia.
Girls who happen to go to school are expected to take care of household chores as well when they return home, leaving them with no time to study or do their homework. This results in poor school performance, often resulting in failure.
According to a consolidated national performance report of 1999 issued by the education ministry, the proportion of female students joining higher education have been decreasing since 1996.
"The decreasing tendency in the participants of female students is thus an area that require some conscious remedial action," the report said.
It suggested deliberate selection in favour of female students admission at schools and critical measures to improve the participation of girls at primary school as well as making efforts to retain them in school.
Affirmative action is stipulated in the constitution in order to provide special attention to women so as to enable them compete and participate on the basis of equality with men in political, social and economic life as well as in public and private institutions.
But many women do not agree with affirmative action.
"I believe in merit and not in affirmative action. What men can do, I can do better. It is all in the mind. To me, affirmative action smacks of discrimination," Martha Gizaw, a 40-year-old single parent civil servant, said.
Since the gender gap between boys and girls students is wide, it has become a major concern to the education ministry. To narrow the gap, extensive discussions were conducted recently in Dire Dawa, eastern Ethiopia.
It was decided to form a committee drawn from different state organs, teachers and community leaders to create awareness among the community to encourage it send its daughters to school in large numbers.
It was also decided to provide guidance and counselling at schools, to introduce school weeks that bring parents and the schools together in order to sensitise the community about the importance of girls education.
But will these measures work?
"No, it will never work as long as we are wallowing in poverty. Unless we achieve economic development, social problems, including those of girls education, will always be with us," Sara Berhanu, an economics teacher, said.
Sarah, however, is optimistic about the future. "As time goes the situation will improve. Let us promote women by promoting the girl child," she added.