In Somalia, only about 25 percent of girls go to formal primary school which is one of the lowest rates in the world. 65 percent of young women aged between 20 and 24 years’ old have either never been to formal school or have never studied beyond primary level.
There are many barriers preventing girls from going to school including cultural attitudes, poverty and displacement due to drought and conflict. According to traditional views, it is not important for girls to go to school.
However, there are signs of improvement as more and more people start to accept that formal education is good for young women and girls.
Hafso Mohamed is in her final year at Ummada University in Mogadishu. She has built up her confidence during her years in education and is now a lively participant in classroom discussions.
“Girls are now focussing on education,” she says. “We are now in a position to compete with boys although they still have more opportunities than we do.”
Hafso explains how much things have changed for girls.
“In the past, girls were not allowed to study because their parents didn’t believe they should go to school as their place was in the home. That was wrong.”
Another reason why the education of girls remains a struggle is that Somalia’s infrastructure and services have been badly damaged by more than 30 years of conflict. The government does not have the resources to focus on women’s education.
Aid organisations and local volunteers and stepped in to fill the gap, which has led to some improvements, both in terms of changing people’s attitudes towards women’s education and in terms of increasing the number of girls attending school.
Dr Abdullahi Aden Sheikh Hassan of the University of Mogadishu says young women are becoming increasingly active in class discussions.
“Traditionally, parents believed only boys should study and that there was no point in educating girls because their futures involved working in the home and looking after the animals,” he says. “While in reality it is the female students who tend to put more effort into their studies.”
“In the past, it was even a problem for girls to go to religious schools or dugsi because parents believed that their presence would distract the boys who would no longer focus on their studies. That is completely wrong,”
Dr Hassan says parental attitudes are starting to change. More families understand that girls have an equal right to boys when it comes go formal education, although they tend to believe that girls should continue doing their domestic chores as well as going to school.One parent whose attitude towards education has changed in Nurto Mohamed Ibrahim, the mother of three sons and two daughters all of whom are in school
“When I was growing up, education was not a priority for girls,” she says. “But when I had a family of my own I saw other mothers sending their girls to school so I did the same. It is very important for girls and boys to be educated equally.”
Aamino Nor Hussein and Fatima Adam Rage are interns with Bilan Media, Somalia’s first all-women media house, set up by UNDP and hosted by Dalsan Media Group in Mogadishu.