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Empowering girls through education

In Kenya’s North Eastern Province, girls from the region’s Somali community must overcome great odds to access education.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

23rd May 2010 17:04

Alessia Valenza

Source: MamaCash

“In our community people strongly believe that a girl’s place is in the home, not in school. All girls need to know is how to take care of a husband. So as soon as girls are circumcised, and this happens when they are still very young, they are ready to get married. This usually means the end of their education”, says Fatuma Kinsi Abbas, founder and director of Mama Cash grantee the Pastoralist Girls Initiative (PGI).

PGI helps girls fight for their right to an education. Fatuma: “Education is key. Women’s health, leadership and reproductive rights, they all hinge on education. If you neglect education, women’s health suffers and leadership is not developed”.

“Our girls have no female role models. There are hardly any female teachers, and if girls don’t go to school, there will never be any. When they go to a hospital, they see no female nurses, no female doctors. If we continue like this, most of our girls will be illiterate and uneducated. Their husbands will get away with mistreating them because these girls are not economically empowered. They don’t know their rights.”

PGI uses a variety of methods to keep girls in school. One of PGI’s biggest successes is its school club programme, Girls Forum. The Girls Forum provides a friendly environment to girls to meet, learn their rights and build their self confidence. They are encouraged to speak up and express themselves. They also receive support in overcoming both personal and collective obstacles. They talk about issues like sexuality, reproductive health rights, what leadership means and their rights.

For example, if a school doesn’t have toilets at all or where there is no adequate water supply, girls are affected much more than boys. Fatuma explains that “you’ll see girls leaving school at midday to relieve themselves, resulting in missed lessons and poorer grades. It looks like a small thing, but getting the right kind of toilets brings change. You can’t just do interventions in one area. You can build girls’ confidence and encourage them to go to school, but if they still can’t use the toilets at school, then you’re won’t be successful in ensuring their access to education. The approaches have to be integrated.”

PGI collaborates with key stakeholders and actively involves the girls in decision making processes to find solutions to their problems. Fatuma: “It’s important to include men in this process. As soon as you have the men on your side, change gets a lot easier. So we show boys why education is so important for their future wives, and why it’s better for them if girls aren’t circumcised.”

PGI focuses on access to education for girls, but also works on issues like domestic violence and Female Genital Mutilation. “We organise workshops about the law against violence against women. The law exists, but people don’t know about it”.

The Girl’s Forum started as a small scale, local initiative, but now PGI reaches out to approximately 7,000 girls in primary schools throughout the region. Girls are not just learning about their rights; they are learning to be leaders. Some of the girls who participated in Girls Forum while in primary school have taken the initiative to start Girls’ Forums in their secondary schools. The girls are proving that PGI’s strategy works. “If we have changed the life of ten girls, we can change our community. Because they will change the life of ten others”.

PGI works at the intersection of themes like reproductive rights, violence against women and women’s leadership. The group sees education as the means to achieve a structural change in the mentality towards girls’ and women’s position in society. Mama Cash is proud to support PGI’s integrated approach.