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At a glance: Yemen

In Yemen, one female student is speaking out for girls’ education

© UNICEF Yemen/2011/Al-Zubairy
Boys don’t mind sitting on the floor, as long as the village girls keep coming to school, according to eighth grade students of the Al-Hussein Ben Ali school in Fara’ Al-Udain, in Ibb, Yemen.

By Mohammed Al-Asaadi

IBB, Yemen, 3 October 2011 - There is a spirit of harmony in this classroom packed with teenage students at the Al-Hussein Ben Ali School in Al-Mazahin; where the boys happily take their place on the floor, leaving the few available desks for the girls. “As long as our sisters keep coming to school, we have no problem sitting on the floor,” said Ismail, 15, as the other boys around him all nodded in agreement.

Advocating for girls’ education

Last year, the Al-Hussein Ben Ali School hosted a total of 674 students - a little less than half of which were girls. “The school recorded a slight increase of five per cent in girls’ enrolment compared to 2006-2007,” said principal Saleh Asaad Hazza.

With her two younger sisters and three brothers, Salwa Hussein Naji, 16, must walk two hours to get to school under a blazing sky. Wearing a traditional black niqab with a veil that reveals only her eyes, Salwa spoke to the importance of girls’ education, while pointing out the erroneous beliefs of her elders.

© UNICEF Yemen/2011/Al-Zubairy
Al-Hussein Ben Ali School is one of ten UNICEF-supported child-friendly schools in Fara’ Al-Udain, in Ibb, Yemen. The school is cleaner and friendlier than ever, according to student council member, Salwa Naji.

“There is a high rate of illiteracy among parents and older generations,” she said. “These people are hard to convince that education is important for their children, because we are talking about something they have not experienced.”

Taking her role as an advocate for girls’ education very seriously, Salwa encourages the village girls to come to school. “Older women in particular tend not to listen,” she said resignedly,”but I keep telling them about school anyway.”

Child-friendly schools

Al-Hussein Ben Ali School is one of ten child-friendly schools in the district of Fara’a Al-Udain. The district’s director of education, Jalal Faris Shaj’e attributes much of their success to UNICEF.

“We look forward to widening the circle of child-friendly schools in the district,” he said. “In our district, we have 73 schools with 28,028 students, 44 per cent of whom are girls. We shortlisted 20 of them hoping that UNICEF will choose to turn them into child-friendly schools.”

© UNICEF Yemen/2011/Al-Zubairy
“I would never have come this far, had I not had the opportunity to continue school,” said Salwa Naji, 16, who is an advocate for girls' education.

Salwa herself is a prime example of a young student who has benefitted from the child-friendly school initiative. Not too long ago, she was forced to take a year off from her schooling after her father lost his job. Through UNICEF support, however, she was able to get her education back on track and now plans to become a doctor one day.

”I was only able to come back after my school became a UNICEF-supported child-friendly school,” she explained. “My sisters, brothers and I now receive school supplies, there is no tuition to pay and other agencies even give us food, too.”

Making a difference

Although primary school girls’ enrolment rates have steadily risen since 1990 nationwide, they still remain well below those of boys - with girl-to-boy ratios increasing from 45 per cent in 1990 to 66 per cent in 2009.

There is no doubt that education is making a major difference in the lives of students across the region - a fact Salwa is quick to point out. “I would never have come this far, had I not had the opportunity to continue school,” she said.

Her black niqab may have faded some during the daily two-hour trek to school under the scorching rays of the sun, but her determination to study and even become a doctor one day shines on - brighter than ever.



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