Education as an emancipator: the case study of Somalia

Countries Somalia
Date 20.08.2019

Quality education – from childhood to adulthood – is an absolute necessity for girls to become contributing members of their communities. For Somali women, education provides a much-needed refuge from the severe hardships they face on a daily basis – particularly in refugee camps.

This was my own story. Education got me to where I am today.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1991 to a Somali family hailing from Garissa County, I was given the rare opportunity to study. Had I not been educated, it is more than likely that I would have been married off and become an illiterate mother. But my fate was different, I had a mother who encouraged me to go to school. My family’s support gave me the chance to improve my place in the world and help the rest of the community as well.

Somali girls face numerous obstacles when attempting to get an education. These include sociocultural practices like female genital mutilation or child marriages that hinder their ability to attend school or causes them to drop out. Often, they also have to face – be it at school or at home – emotional abuse, sexual harassment and physical violence.

This work is driven by the motto: educating a girl is like educating the whole society

In fact, the UNDP’s latest statistics place Somalia as the fourth most gender inequal country worldwide. 45% of women aged 20 to 24 are married before the age of 18. Adult literacy for women is still at 26% and 74% are unemployed.

There is a glimmer of hope though. Through AVSI projects, refugee Somali women and girls are empowered and encouraged to gain agency over their own lives. This work is driven by the motto: “educating a girl is like educating the whole society”.

Hafsa Abdi Ibrahim is one of these girls. She was born in Dadaab refugee camp, and has been a member of its ‘Scout Group’ since primary school. This group is an AVSI project that works to empower young refugees through education, skills development and community service. Hafsa faced many challenges but has overcome them all to become a brilliant secondary school student. She has attended AVSI trainings on women’s rights and this year was named ‘the best girl scout in Dadaab’.

She uses the skills she has gained to support her community by organising activities like cleaning days at school and in her neighbourhood. She has also led the recruitment of 32 girls to the scout movement, and worked to bring out-of-school children back into class while campaigning to raise awareness among her fellow girls about the importance of education.

Supporting income-generating activities for women is a stepping-stone to securing their independence

The international community can play a crucial role in promoting girls’ equality. Here’s how:

First, make sure to involve the whole community in addressing questions of protecting girls’ rights, empowering civic education on social-cultural practices, and fostering a community dialogue on how to solve domestic violence. It is also important to engage men and religious leaders in these efforts, as well as in those designed to promote positive parental roles.

The economic empowerment of women is another key component of any tangible plan to address gender inequality. Supporting income-generating activities for women is a stepping-stone to securing their independence.

It is clear that women tend to be the strongest advocates for girls’ rights, so promoting their active role in leadership and governance is a strategic choice. This is also the case in the education system. More female teachers, hired with equal wages and trained in child protection, would allow for schools to become a safer reference points for girls.

AVSI should be proud of the work it does in Dadaab, which is one of the most populous refugee camps in the world. The projects we run offer a much-needed pragmatic, inter-sectorial approach to promoting the development of local communities – always keeping in mind the crucial importance of girls’ education.