Hawa Aden: a Somali activist who continues to fight for girls’ education
GALKAYO, Somalia, 16 March 2011: Hawa Aden is the Director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, a network of schools and projects aimed at helping children – especially girls – start and complete education in Somalia. She spoke to Mike Pflanz.
PFLANZ: Why do you advocate for a greater focus on girls’ education?
ADEN: We’re helping boys too, but ensuring that girls can access and then complete education is a far higher challenge in Somalia than it is for boys. Something like only 6 per cent of girls who start school eventually finish their education, and if you’ve only got six out of every 100 girls graduating, then you have to do something about it. There’s no government, there’s no state, so there’s no government money for education. You hear the community, the clans, say they are collecting money for ‘children’s education’ but that will never mean for a girl’s education, only for boys’.
PFLANZ: Why is there this discrimination against sending girls to school?
ADEN: The barriers [blocking girls’ education] are many: there are cultural beliefs that don’t value girls’ education, but we’re trying to say girls are individuals and are equal to boys. The most significant thing is the need for a daughter to labour at home, the thinking that while her mother is out looking for something to put on the table, the girl must stay behind to care for the home. Then when she is still young, she is married early, and she is no longer the responsibility of her parents.
There is also a misconception that Islam says education of girls is not important, but in fact there are religious verses which say if you school a boy, you educate one person, but if you school a girl, you educate a whole family.
Poverty is another very important barrier – if there’s enough money to pay school fees for one child, it will always be a boy.
Together, all of this means these beliefs become part of the psychology, that that’s how girls should behave, they don’t talk, they don’t run, they don’t answer back, the community begins to believe it’s wrong for them to learn knowledge.
PFLANZ: How difficult has it been to overcome those cultural barriers?
ADEN: At first it was very hard. When we came to Galkayo to establish the school, people called us names, they said we were witches who wanted to kidnap all of their girls. We had no funding, we started with no buildings, with children sitting on the floor to learn. But slowly, very slowly, things are changing. We needed to have the support of parents and community and religious elders to have girls stay in school, we had to raise awareness about the value of education.
PFLANZ: How did you do that?
ADEN: We Somalis are not good at reading or writing, but we can talk and talk and talk. That’s how we do it: we talk directly to parents and the community, we try to encourage them to understand girls and what their needs are, to encourage them to let them stay in school – that’s the point of the programme. The best way to turn things around is to show successes, girls who have graduated from our programme and are now successfully earning salaries in good jobs, because they are educated.
PFLANZ: How can you measure your success?
ADEN: It is not easy, but we can show that there are many more girls enrolled in school, and many more of them stay throughout to complete their education. There were problems to that – we had to start a programme to teach girls and boys about the changes which come to their bodies as they grow up.
PFLANZ: Why was that necessary?
ADEN: No one was here telling girls that menstruation is a natural thing, even their mothers were not telling them, because their own mothers did not tell them when they were young. We tried to educate that just because girls get their periods, it does not mean that they have to leave school. We set up school groups to bring everyone together, to make sure that people understand about the body, about the processes which will come, to make sure no one drops out because of a known – that you will get a period monthly – and an unknown – what to do about it. The problem with children is that they will look for answers to problems themselves, but are they the right answers? We are here to try to make sure they get the right answers.
About the Management of Maturation Project implemented by GECPD: