Scholarships help Somali girls cross barriers to education
By Ban Khalid Al-Dhayi
HARGEISA, Somalia, 2 October 2012 - For 14-year-old Filsan Faisal Ismail, who lives in Hargeisa district, Somaliland, a school degree would be a bridge to a brighter future.
But Filsan lost both her parents at an early age. Her aunt looked after her, but couldn’t afford the school fees – leaving Filsan with no option but to drop out of school in the fourth grade.
Lower enrolment for girls
Somali families with low incomes cannot afford school fees, uniforms and learning materials. The limited capacity of authorities to deliver efficient educational services for Somali children is also an obstacle. The rate of enrolment for girls and boys remains low, but for girls it is significantly lower. According to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, in 2011, the enrolment rate for girls in Somaliland was 38 per cent, compared to that of boys, which was 50 per cent. This difference is attributed to persistent socio-cultural and economic barriers that keep girls, in general, out of school, but that are more pronounced for girls from disadvantaged and marginalized communities.
UNICEF Hargeisa Field Office Education Specialist Safia Jibril says that the situation for girls from poor, deprived, displaced families, minority clans and other marginalized communities, as well as for orphaned girls from within and outside these communities, is much worse, as they often do not have any safety net.
“In cases where parents have many children, preference is given to a boy, when it comes to going to school,” she says. “Girls from these communities tend to remain at home minding siblings in the absence of a mother, or helping their mothers to take care of the home as she tries to eke out a living for the family doing menial jobs.”
The high price or lack of sanitary towels is another factor; not having these articles leads to embarrassment and lack of confidence and is responsible for poor performance in class, poor transition to the next level, sporadic school attendance and high dropout rates.
Scholarships provide opportunities
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to help marginalized girls in northwestern and northeastern Somalia go to school. The programme aims to improve both access to and quality of girls’ education by offering a comprehensive scholarship package through the Accelerated Female Participation in Education (AFPE) fund. This scholarship fund helps expand opportunities for vulnerable and deprived Somali girls by supporting them through the full education cycle.
The programme mainly addresses the barriers that prevent such girls from enrolling, remaining, participating effectively in class and progressing to higher levels in education.
There are currently 453 girls at the primary, secondary, tertiary and university levels in northwestern and northeastern Somalia receiving these education scholarships. The average scholarship for one lower primary school girl for one year is USD193, while, for a university student, the scholarship is USD1,262. The scholarship package includes registration and tuition fees, pocket money, bus fare, school uniform and shoes, textbooks, mathematical set and stationery.
I will make every effort to achieve my dream
In 2011, seizing the opportunity for education through the AFPE fund, Filsan applied for and won one of the scholarships offered by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to orphaned and needy girls.
“Although I have lost three years of my precious learning age doing house chores, I am now in grade six at the Gurya Samo Primary School in Hargeisa,” says Filsan. “If I continue to receive support for my education, I will make every effort to achieve my dream to become a doctor in future.”