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At a glance: Yemen

Yemen makes progress in girls’ education with UNICEF-supported literacy programmes

UNICEF Image: Yemen, Girls' Education
© UNICEF Yemen/2008/ Sanabani
UNICEF Regional Director Sigrid Kaag (left) talks to girls in a school in Sanhan District, Yemen. Many of the girls are the first from their village to get into a UNICEF-supported literacy programme.

By Naseem-Ur Rehman

SANA’A, Yemen, 31 March 2008 – Umm Nooruddin, mother of three, is among the first generation of women in her village to get a second chance at learning to read. She is one of 35 young women in Sanhan District, on the outskirts of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, who are taking part in a UNICEF-supported literacy class.

Ms. Nooruddin is the pride of her class. Recently, she drew instant applause from her classmates as she read a quarter of a page without stopping, reflecting her newly acquired skill.

“The most precious support comes from grandparents who babysit my three children for my time in literacy class,” said Ms. Nooruddin.

Through modest, practical efforts on the ground, UNICEF is encouraging literacy in a conservative setting where girls’ education has been lagging for years. Across the country, girls’ primary school enrolment is around 60 per cent. This national figure masks a huge disparity, however, as remote villages remain far behind.

A new story of literacy

Sanhan is one of five districts where girls’ education is making headway with strong community participation. The initiative has brought together, with UNICEF support, the education authorities and a leading non-governmental organization.

With 50 literacy centres in the district, more than 2,000 young girls and women are learning to read and write through this pioneering effort. For girls and women who missed out on going to school, the impact of the literacy classes is transcendant.

UNICEF Image: Yemen, Girls' Education
© UNICEF Yemen/2008/ Sanabani
Yemeni Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Mujawar discusses issues of girls’ educational development with UNICEF Regional Director Sigrid Kaag.

The idea of girls’ education is gaining community acceptance. Over a period of one year, the number of girls enrolled in primary schools is over 14,000 – representing a 29 per cent increase in enrolment.

Coming together for education

In the quiet village of Mahal Masood, scores of girls are writing the new story of female literacy.

Different generations are coming together to support girls’ education, drawing on the tradition of a strong-knit family. Here, the enrolment and retention statistics for girls have increased by 40 per cent over a period of two years.

A strong national consensus is emerging in Yemen to put children's issues at the centre of the agenda. A three-day visit to Mahal Masood by UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Sigrid Kaag also sparked a renewed zeal in the country to do more for children and women.

The advancement in the village was applauded by Ms. Kaag during a visit to the local literacy centre. Proficient in Arabic, she was able to to drive home the message on the importance of girls’ education.

Government commitment

The Yemeni Prime Minister, Ali Muhammad Mujawar, has already given his commitment to push ahead on progress for children and women.

In many areas, the acceleration of girls’ education hinges on getting female teachers on board to meet community demand. A quick response to this issue came as the Minister of Finance recently put the government’s seal of approval on the recruitment of female teachers.

“Girls must get education,” said Ms. Nooruddin, the young mother from Sanhan District. “We do not want our children to suffer the way we did.”



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