Promoting girl's education in Niger
Dadir Kowa Abarchi (Madarounfa), Niger, 4 September 2008 – In the village of Dadir Kowa Abarchi, in the region of Maradi, East of Niamey, two little girls, Barira, and Choukouria, are singing under the shade of a neem tree. “Rains should come and water the fields so that we get good crops”, they sing. The rainy season is about to draw to a close but rains are still needed to ensure good harvests for the village.
By the end of this month, one of these girls will start a new school year at the brand-new school in the village. One of them won’t. “My mother has six children: three boys and three girls. My brothers are allowed to go to school. But I am not allowed because I need to take care of the daily chores, take care of my little sisters and also contribute to my family’s expenses”, explains 10 year-old Choukouria. On a daily basis, the little girl morphs into a street vendor, roaming around the streets of the village selling home-made doughnuts.
The Many Challenges to Girls Education
Choukouria’s story is one of thousands of similar stories in the country. In Niger, only one in two girls goes to primary school, one in ten to secondary school and one in fifty to high school. The lack of gender equality, of women’s empowerment, linked with poverty and tradition, are some of the root causes. Household chores, such as fetching water, keep many girls out of school. Most other household chores – including sweeping and garbage disposal – as well as small income-generating activities, such as street trading, also fall to women and girls. When family members become sick (often due to hygiene-related diseases), girls are more likely to be kept home to care for them.
School attendance rates are increasing slowly, but girls’ attendance is still much lower than boys’.
“When I see the other girls going to school, I feel sad. I would also like to join them”, says Choukouria.
“I wish that Choukouria could be with us”, says nine year-old Barira. “I always encourage her to speak with her mother and convince her that she needs at least to learn how to read and write.”
A girl's dream
Barira’s school at Dadir Kowa Abarchi opened in 2001. At that time, 63 students, including only 8 girls, had enrolled. During the school year 2007-2008, 195 students enrolled, more than half of them girls. This was achieved thanks to the combined efforts of UNICEF and the Government of Niger who organised targeted communication campaigns: using itinerant educational cinema to broadcast films promoting girls’ education at the community level, organising group discussions with parents, community and religious leaders, as well as using local and national radio stations to release sensitisation messages.
“Our community has understood the importance of educating girls”, says Garba Moussa, the village leader. “We want our village to develop economically and to offer better living conditions for its inhabitants. The best way to achieve this is by educating girls.”
Barira’s school was restored in 2007: UNICEF worked along with her local community to rebuild her school, providing metal beams and also using locally available building materials. At Barira’s new school, separate toilets for boys and girls were also set up. This way, girls are protected from abuse and less vulnerable to sexual violence. This is providing additional incentive for parents to send their daughters to school.
Access to potable water and sanitation facilities at schools is still low in Niger: in 2005-2006, out of nearly 9,000 schools surveyed, 82 per cent did not have latrines . This situation reduces access to, as well as, the quality of education which consequently increases the vulnerability of the children.
“I did not send my first daughter to school because I was not aware at the time of the importance for girls to get an education. I do not even know how to read or write. Today, everything has changed. I have seen my neighbours, my friends and family members enroll their daughters at school. I have realised how good education can be for Barira. I will let Barira study as long as she wants. I won’t let her get married before she finishes her studies”, says Barira’s mother, Hadiza Moussa.
Progress Achieved So Far
The gross school enrolment rate in Niger jumped from 57 per cent (47 per cent for girls and 67 per cent for boys) during the school year 2006-2007 to 62 per cent (53 per cent for girls and 71 per cent for boys) during the school year 2007-2008.
UNICEF is currently supporting the Government in the elaboration of a national policy for girls’ education. To date, UNICEF and its partners have set up school management committees in over 600 schools in Niger. In addition, the restoration of schools and classrooms accommodates approximately 16,000 children. Learning materials are distributed to an average of 150,000 children every year.
By 2013, UNICEF plans to bring primary school admission rates ( in the first year) in Niger, from 76 per cent to 100 per cent.
by Sandra Bisin