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Mothers volunteer to help girls complete their education in Cote d’Ivoire

© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2010/Sage
Antoinette Yapi (front-right) is Treasurer of the CMEF and Habibata Ouattara are proud that some girls in their community were able to stay in school and are on track to complete their education thanks to the support the club provided.

Abobo, Côte d'Ivoire, 8 August 2010 - Habibata Ouattara was 17 years-old when she was forced out of school to get married with a man her family had chosen for her. Today she strives to ensure that girls in her community can stay in school and complete their education.

She volunteers at the School Girl Mothers’ Club (CMEF) in her community to encourage and support more girls to go to school. While girls are faced with a gamut of challenges when it comes to accessing and completing a quality education in Cote d’Ivoire, CMEFs are making important contributions towards the Millennium Development Goals 2 (access to education) and 3 (women’s empowerment).

Link with income-generating activities
The Agnikro CMEF in Abobo, a very populated suburban zone in Abidjan, capital of Côte d’Ivoire, was founded last year to raise money to make small improvements to the local school and to support families who do not have the financial means to send their daughters to school.

The group of about 30 mothers decided to open a rice shop on a bustling street of Abobo. Every day the mothers take turn in the shop to sell rice bags in bulk. Each of them does a tour of duty of about five hours and does on average four shifts per week.

To set up the shop, the CMEF benefited from a micro credit of US$400 to purchase large quantity in bags and find a location for the store.

Every time they finish selling a whole bag, they reimburse part of the credit and get another bag to replace it.

With this arrangement, the CMEF manages to make a profit of about US$10 per day that is automatically invested on girls’ education.

Persisting barriers to girls’ education
Girls’ education is not taken for granted in Côte d’Ivoire.

According to the State Report on the Situation of Education (2009), a boy has on average 76% chances to attend school and a girl only 66%. Less than 20% of girls have access to secondary education. In addition, the girl drop-out rate remains higher as only 42% achieve primary education and 60% for boys.

Basic social services delivered by the government have largely collapsed, especially in the Northern Center and Western parts of the country, since the beginning of the socio-political crisis in 2002, including birth registration facilities.

According to the latest survey, birth registration dropped from 72% before the crisis to 55% today, which means that only one birth out of two is registered.

Children who do not have papers can attend school, but they are not allowed to sit for final primary examinations because they cannot prove their identity.

© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2010/Sage
The CMEF in Abobo set up a small rice shop where they make about US$10 of profit per day which is invested to improve the school or pay administrative fees to get identification papers for some girls in the community.

Oftentimes, girls are enrolled in school for a few years and then drop out to work as domestic worker or to get married or as a result of sexual violence by peers and teachers.

The CMEFs now can advocate in the communities and can put pressure on families to keep all of their children in school to complete primary education and also remain in school as long as possible.

"Families have to understand that even if a girl gets married, she can still go to school" says Ouattara. "Marriage is no excuse for a girl to stop going to school". Sexual violence is prevalent in primary and secondary schools.

Girls are often pressured to provide sexual favours to their teachers in exchange of good grades or are sexually assaulted by teachers and peers.

While a ministerial decree on corporal punishment has been issued in 2009, there is still a gap in the national legislation on sanctioning sexual and gender-based violence in schools.

Implementing change from the bottom and up
In Côte d’Ivoire, UNICEF is supporting more than 40 CMEFs across the country like the one in Abobo.

UNICEF has also led the establishment of a national UN Girls Education Initiative network since 2006, which brings together government, local authority, UN and civil society partners to ensure that girls have access to safe and quality education.

Since its creation, the Agnikro CMEF in Abobo was able to provide financial assistance to about 10 families to go through the administrative procedure to get papers to the girls.

The cost ranges between US$10 to US$20, a huge sum of money in a country where half of the population lives on less than a dollar per day.

The CMEF in Abobo has expansion plans. The success of selling rice encouraged them to continue and start selling other products such as cooking oil and soap.

But to continue they need to find a larger stall. More importantly they want to convince more mothers to join their CMEF and they also want other mothers to set up similar clubs throughout the country.

"We have to take the education of our girls in our own hands" said Ouattara.

By Louis Vigneault-Dubois



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