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From a vicious to a positive cycle: Girls’ education in Senegal

© UNICEF Senegal/2005/Pittenger
Girls in the schoolyard at Ndiarème B Primary School on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. Schools like Ndiarème B strive to create ‘girl-friendly’ schools, to boost the number of female students.

UNICEF’s latest ‘Progress for Children’ report, on gender parity and primary education, is part of the many efforts by partners in the world community to ensure that opportunities for going to school are equally available to both girls and boys. The report complements the work of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative and the Gender Achievement and Prospects in Education (GAP) project, both supported by UN agencies, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and communities and families. ‘Progress for Children’ will be released on 18 April 2005.

DAKAR, Senegal, 14 April 2005 – Ndiarème B Primary School is in the poor outskirts of Dakar. The school’s director, Magatte Mbow, earnestly believes that every girl has a right to an education. When she discovered that 8-year-old Aissa was being prevented by her family from going to school, she decided to pay them a visit.

On her arrival at Aissa’s shack, Mbow found out that the girl’s parents were dead and that she was living with her blind grandmother. Aissa could not go to school, the grandmother said, because their only source of income was the grandmother’s begging, and because of her disability, she needed Aissa as a guide.

“If she goes to school, we can’t eat,” said the grandmother.

Too often, in Senegal as in the rest of West and Central Africa, poverty means taking – or keeping – girls out of school. Schools like Ndiarème B, with the support of partners such as UNICEF, are working hard to overcome the problem.

© UNICEF Senegal/2005/Pittenger
Magatte Mbow, director of Ndiarème B Primary School, stands with some of the students outside her ‘girl-friendly’ school.

It’s a massive challenge. Of the 10 countries worldwide with the lowest ratio of girls to boys in school, eight are located in West and Central Africa. In the countries of Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Benin and Guinea, the gross enrolment ratios of girls as a per cent of boys range from 63 to 75. In Senegal itself, only 15 per cent of girls are able to go to secondary school – and later in life there are only 6 literate adult women for every 10 literate men. (Source: SOWC.)

“When you come from poverty, a life – a child’s life – is seen as a way to get food, as a way to survive,” says Mbow.

Society gains when girls are educated

Women who have been educated themselves tend to have fewer and healthier children, and their children are more likely to go to school and remain there longer.

Women who have been educated gain wage-earning power and learn skills that allow them to be more productive in their work at home. They become more able to protect themselves from diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

They are more likely to take active roles in decision-making in their families and communities. And they often channel the skills and knowledge they acquired through education into helping their communities.

In short, educating women promotes a positive cycle that can lead, among other things, to more educated women in the future. But the neighbourhoods surrounding Ndiarème B have long been caught in a vicious cycle, one that leads from lack of education to poverty and back to lack of education again.

© UNICEF Senegal/2005/Pittenger
This girl, poised to sprint, attends Ndiarème B Primary School, where the proportion of female students has risen from 35 per cent to 49 per cent in 5 years.

Girl-Friendly Schools

In spite of this, Ndiarème B has an impressive track record in getting girls into school – and in keeping them motivated to stay. In 1996, when the school first opened, 35 per cent of the students there were girls. Now, in 2005, 49 per cent are girls.

Girls at Ndiarème B are now also more likely to finish school. As recently as 2002, 52 per cent of all students at the school successfully completed their final exams and graduated, but only 29 per cent of the girls achieved that goal. In 2004, 63 per cent of all students graduated, and 47 per cent of girls graduated.

Ndiarème B, like other schools throughout West and Central Africa, has participated in programmes, supported by UNICEF as well as other partners, that strive to create ‘Girl-Friendly Schools’. These are schools with safe environments, where there is no free of physical violence allowed, where proper water and sanitation are available, and food and drink can be purchased.

Proximity campaigns are held, in which teams go to houses in areas with low percentages of girls in school to speak to their parents about the difference an education can make to their daughters’ future. Girls’ scholarships are awarded. And special classes are provided for adolescent girls, covering everything from female health issues to finding a job.



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