Move to promote girls’ education in Yemen

Samia, aged 10, is one of the few girls in her village who attend school. “I like to learn. I like my school. I want to bring education to everyone here when I grow up,” she says.

The village of al-Quraiti, in al-Zaydia District of al-Hudeidah Governorate, western Yemen, is typical of many in rural Yemen, where women spend hours fetching water on donkeys and illiteracy rates are high. It is here that Samia attends Sumayah primary school.

It has 60 girls in the first grade but only 15 in grade seven, indicating that many do not progress far.

“To bring children into school is easy but keeping them in school is difficult,” said Nasim Ur-Rehman, chief communications and information officer at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen.

Hudeidah Governorate had 356,183 students in primary school in 2007. Of these, 148,919 were girls and the rest boys, according to the al-Hudeidah education office. In grade one, there were 40,202 boys and 34,051 girls, while in grade nine there were 9,924 boys against 6,649 girls, indicating a high dropout rate among girls.

UNICEF, in cooperation with the Education Ministry, has launched a several-week-long national campaign to promote girls’ education – mobilising parents, community leaders, officials, religious leaders, the media and children themselves. Focusing on six of Yemen’s 21 governorates and the Island of Socotra, it aims to distribute campaign materials and use TV and radio to get its message across.

“The national campaign comes at the most opportune time. Yemen suffers from low enrolment when it comes to primary education. The retention of children and completion of primary school is not very good,” UNICEF’s Ur-Rehman told IRIN.

He said there was a huge gender gap: “Girls are somehow at a disadvantage: they are the last to be sent to school and the first to be pulled out,” he said.

According UNICEF, across Yemen there are 63 girls per 100 boys in primary school in urban areas and 45 per 100 in rural areas.

Poverty, early marriage, lack of female teachers and child-friendly schools, especially in rural areas where 75 percent of Yemen’s 21 million people live, are the main factors.

“Early marriage is a big problem… Girls lose out on in terms of education when they are married in another area,” Sumayah school’s headmistress told IRIN.

The head of al-Zaydia District’s education office, Abdul-Bari Mohammed, said there was a shortage of female teachers: 14 schools in the district had closed since 2005 due to the lack of female teachers. Many communities did not allow male teachers to teach girls.

Ali Bahloul, head of al-Hudeidah’s education office, told IRIN that large families (common in rural areas) meant children were often sent to school at too young an age simply to prevent them from getting into trouble at home. “Education is not their [the parents] main concern. Children are enrolled in school too young,” he said, adding: “The minimum age should at least be six or seven for primary school enrolment.”

Sumayah primary school for girls, which Samia attends, has been selected as one of UNICEF’s “child-friendly schools” as part of its “framework for rights-based, child-friendly educational systems and schools” [see:].

Some 30 percent of UNICEF’s resources in Yemen have been earmarked for education programmes, according to Ur-Rehman. UNICEF has allocated US$317,231 for girls’ education in al-Hudeidah alone.

In 2007, UNICEF recruited 377 female secondary graduates from rural communities in the six targeted governorates. Some 115 of them were selected in al-Hudeidah Governorate. Each female teacher is paid a monthly salary of US$100 by UNICEF. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the ministries of planning, the civil service and education to guarantee the absorption of the 377 female teachers after three years.

Yemen is ranked bottom (128 out of 128 countries listed) on the Global Gender Gap Index for 2007. [see:]

See earlier report Campaign to enhance girls’ education in Yemen

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