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Mothers’ campaign promotes girls’ right to schooling in northern Cameroon

© UNICEF Cameroon/2009/Sweeting
Hawa Mamoudou, 12, in her class in Perma village, northern Cameroon. Hawa recently returned to school after a two-year absence thanks to the work of the UNICEF-supported National Network of Mothers’ Association for Girls’ Education.

By Salma Zulfiqar and John Nkuo

In the run-up to 20 November 2009, the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about this landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – including progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.

PERMA VILLAGE, Cameroon, 17 November 2009 – Hawa Mahmadou, 12, was devastated when she was forced to drop out of school two years ago because her parents couldn’t afford the fees. She spent her days doing household chores.

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Hawa comes from the village of Perma in northern Cameroon, where traditional practices, as well as poverty, keep girls at home. Parents see boys as the main breadwinners and prefer to send them to school, thereby reducing primary school enrolment rates for girls.

Village to village
But now, Hawa is able to study again – thanks to the National Network of Mothers’ Associations for Girls’ Education (known by its French acronym, RECAMEF), a non-governmental organization composed of mothers who go from village to village and convince parents to send their daughters to school.

The network covered Hawa’s parent-teacher association costs of around $3 and provided her with books; as a result, she was able to start attending classes in September.

“I would like to become a medical doctor in the future so that I can cure sick people,” she said.

A growing network
Supported by UNICEF and the Ministry of Basic Education, RECAMEF has helped hundreds of girls like Hawa since it was established in 2006. The network has grown from just one group of women to 250 branches across Cameroon’s northern and eastern regions.

“Here in our poor community, when parents don’t have sufficient means to keep children in school, they prefer to withdraw girls and allow boys to continue because the girls are traditionally married off early,” said the head of RECAMEF in Perma, Aissatou Abdoulaye.

Nevertheless, school enrolment rates for girls are increasing in the village, helping them achieve the right to an education enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Our target is to have 150 girls attending school in Perma village in 2009,” said Ms. Abdoulaye. “We have already fought hard in our area and have managed to get 103 girls in school.”

Community support
Support from community leaders in the village is crucial to reaching parents and changing attitudes. When RECAMEF members met Lamido Bouba Hamman, the traditional leader of Perma village, for example, he endorsed their cause.

© UNICEF Cameroon/2009/Sweeting
The head of the National Network of Mothers’ Associations for Girls’ Education branch in Perma village, Assiatou Abdullah (standing), at a meeting with local women and girls who are lobbying the village chief to encourage as many girls as possible to attend school.

“At first, we thought girls were only meant for marriage,” he said. “But we have learned that even when they are married, women can still continue to go to school.”

The chief noted the important role played by women in Cameroonian society. “Women are appointed as ministers, government officials, and they are also in strategic positions in the police and army,” he asserted. “We must make an effort to send our own girls to school so that tomorrow they, too, can hold positions of responsibility in this country.”

‘On-the-ground credibility’
RECAMEF trains its members to make presentations in villages, advises them on advocacy techniques and gives them bicycles on which to travel from village to village and spread their message.

“RECAMEF is making inroads in Cameroon due to the fact that it has on-the-ground credibility,” said UNICEF Cameroon Chief of Education Dr. Vijitha M. Eyango. “It’s a home-grown, voluntary association. And it’s the mothers of girls who are going out to the community, identifying the problems and reaching out one-by-one to families, and ensuring those girls have no excuse not to be in school.”

With support from the government and UNICEF, the network plans to build upon its successes and expand its coverage next year, giving hope for a brighter future to more girls across Cameroon.




4 November 2009: UNICEF’s Salma Zulfiqar reports on the efforts of mothers in Perma village, northern Cameroon, to help more girls enrol in school
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