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Somalia, March 2016: A second return

By Jairus Ligoo, Education specialist

© UNICEF Somalia/2015/Makundi
Children in their classroom in Somaliland.

HARGEISA, Somaliland, March 2016 – I have just arrived back in Hargeisa, Somaliland for the first time in seven years. I worked in UNICEF Somalia from 2005-2009 and visited frequently.

My first impressions at the airport point to some progress – a newly rehabilitated and longer runway, improved terminal buildings including a revamped VIP lounge, a bold sign banning Khat (herbal stimulant) chewing and smoking within the airport terminals – compared to a dilapidated and tiny terminal that it was back in 2008. How I wish it was this way back when I first served.

After meeting the education team and office staff, I recognize many national staff whom I enjoyed working with, and immediately the nostalgia kicks in.

Today, Shunsuke Yamamoto, the UNICEF Hargeisa Education Specialist and I need to decide whether we should continue with our planned Education Sector Committee meeting convened with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE). There was a deadly attack in the south of Somalia last night and some suggest that if the meeting is not critical we should consider staying where we are.

The security situation in the whole of Somalia remains a concern for humanitarian organizations, and especially for UNICEF, after last year’s attack in Garowe where four staff members lost their lives. I still remember the 2008 bombings in Hargeisa where I found myself leading a team of stranded staff and consultants marooned at one of the hotels for two days until an evacuation was undertaken.

Shunsuke and I gaze at each other and after a moment of reflection, we both seem to speak at the same time. We agree to proceed to the Education Sector Committee meeting and, upon its completion, immediately return to the office.

There is a good turnout at the meeting and it was the right decision to attend. Most of the Education Sector committee members arrive. However, out of the 32 participants, only four are female. I am not surprised at this low female participation as I am aware of the socio-cultural factors that hinder women and girls participation in many facets of Somali life.

The UNICEF and MoEHE 2013/2014 education year book shows only 39 per cent of girls in Somaliland are enrolled in primary school (including Integrated Quranic Schools and Alternative Basic Education) compared to 48 percent of boys. In secondary schools this drops even further to less than 16 per cent of girls and around 30 per cent of boys.

The Director of Primary education Ms. Rahma Ibrahim Amin tells me at the close of the meeting that: “Somaliland has made great progress in addressing gender parity in primary schools but the ratio in secondary schools is still concerning.”

Director Rahma presents anecdotal evidence that points to an almost equal participation of girls in formal primary education with higher dropout rate of girls in secondary education.

The low participation of women at the Education Sector Committee meeting is a snapshot of the challenges to be addressed if real progress in human development is to be realized in Somaliland. There is still work to be done to ensure all girls go through and complete their secondary education, that they are not married before their 18th birthday, that harmful cultural practices against them are addressed, and that the stigma of gender inequality is completely banished.

UNICEF Somalia (through the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) award), the Educate a Child Initiative, the Somaliland Ministry of Education, and other partners, are supporting the strengthening of education delivery systems, teacher training, development of additional learning spaces for children and data and knowledge management with an overall focus and continued advocacy on girls’ education. UNICEF is championing and advocating for girls’ education and the eradication of barriers that prevent them from learning and achieving.

An ongoing drought in the west of Somaliland is devastating herder communities’ livelihoods and disrupting access to education for children from these pastoralist groups as they move with their livestock and families in search of pasture and water, making it even harder for girls to be educated.

I reflect on the initial positive impressions I got at the airport. But I also think that if Somaliland is to make steady, positive progress in its social and economic sectors, it now needs to focus on the education of women and girls.



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