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Africa: Cell Phones And Schools Help Improve Women’s Rights

Issue 284
Front Page

Mayor Jiir Beats Up And Imprisons SLTV News Editor

Bittersweet Independence

Citizens’ Committees From 11 Districts Across Somaliland Meet In Burao To Discuss ILO Projects

Somaliland Now Centre For Illegal Female Cutting

Ethiopian Premier Admits Errors on Somalia

Bush hits dead-end in Somalia

Who’s Sawing Off The Horn Of Africa?

Africom: DoD's Shiny New Toy

US concerned by NGO arrests in Somalia

Regional Affairs

Media Watchdog Urges Somaliland To Free Journalist Abdirahman Muse Slapped And Arrested By Somaliland Capital’s Mayor

Ali Hussein Diriye - 'All We Have Is Freedom

Special Report

International News

I Have Heard The Need For Change... Now Let The Work Of Change Begin

Somali Playwright Accused Of Molestation Fails To Show Up For Trial

Four Bouncers Charged With Attempted Murder

Africa: Cell Phones And Schools Help Improve Women’s Rights


The Conoco Somalia Declassification Project

Book Sees Oil As Troubled Resource For Africa

NY Jury Delivers Mixed Verdict In Khat Smuggling Case

Somali Woman Jumps Off Burning Building

Former Cat Abdirahman Captures 10,000 Meters

The Name Of The Game In Somalia Is Oil

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Boileau

Food for thought


Has Somaliland Three Parties Or One Party With Three Names?

Somaliland And The 26th Of June

The Poisoned Cup

Abdirahman Aw Ali Farah: KULMIYE's Sole Lifeline

Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, MP as UK’s New Prime Minister

What role would Ethiopia/USA play to tackle the Somaliland/Somalia issue?


Jonathan Edelstein

June 27, 2007 - Forced marriage, often of girls in their early teens, is a persistent problem in the Sahel. Thus far, legal and educational measures, including bans on child marriage and efforts to keep teenage girls in school, have had limited effect in containing the practice given the economic incentives to marry off young daughters. In one recent case in Burkina Faso, however, technology succeeded where other measures failed. A 15-year-old girl in the central town of Koudougou, who was being taken to be married against her will, "sent her friends and teachers a text messages begging for help," resulting in the police intercepting her abductors and setting her free.

This incident, which was headline news throughout the country, isn't the only case in which access to communications technology has begun to affect the status of women in conservative societies. Cyberdating in Somaliland, for instance, which has grown from the intersection of urban Internet cafes and a large Western-based diaspora, has raised many younger women's expectations concerning their rights in marriage. In time, the effects of free access to communication could be pervasive in breaking repressive social norms. What the automobile did for the United States in the 1920s, cell phones and Internet access could do for the Sahel in the 21st century.

Another lesson of the Burkina Faso case, however, is that technology by itself isn't enough. What saved the Koudougou bride (whose name has not been released) wasn't only that she had a cell phone, but that she had a network outside the family that she could call. For her, as for most teenagers, the place where she was able to form such a network was at school, meaning that the classroom was not only a place of education but a community she could look to for help when her family attempted to victimize her. This community, however, is a resource that many Burkinabe girls don't have:

The government says while nationally 55 percent of girls are now being educated, only 11-19 percent of girls get schooled in the east and north of the country. This is among the lowest proportion in the world, but nonetheless an improvement from 38 percent [nationally] in 2000.

The rest usually get married, exchanged for dowries while they are as young as 11 or 12, or as soon as they start menstruating. Most of these girls will live as illiterate servants to their new husbands, carting water, performing menial tasks and raising numerous children.

Issa Barry, a teacher at one of those schools in the remote eastern town of Dori, blames people’s dire economic problems for their unwillingness to keep their children in school. “Keeping girls at school is always a problem when they come from families in abject poverty,” she said. “For them, marrying the girl off as soon as possible becomes an economic necessity.”

Several reasons have been cited to explain the widespread resistance to secondary education for girls. In part, the problem is simply that the educational infrastructure isn't sufficiently developed to accommodate all the potential students. Recently, the national government tried to improve the economic incentives for rural families to keep teenage girls in school, including "free textbooks, suspension of school fees and more small schools in villages." As in other African countries that have introduced free public education, however, there weren't enough classrooms to accommodate the new students, and many families withdrew their daughters from school rather than keeping them in squalid and unsanitary school buildings.

Others have pointed to cultural objections. Sister Monique Bonamy, a French missionary who runs a rural primary school, argues that "people are simply afraid of losing their values with foreign teaching methods." She recommends that "teaching... be integrated into the way of life of people through satellite schools and bilingual schools more adapted to their milieu" in order to make rural families "more comfortable about giving their children an education." Left unspoken is the corollary that rural families will view such schools as places where their daughters will stay close to home and be less likely to become sexually active;

There may be some cogency to this argument, because similar factors have led to greater female educational participation in other countries. In Iran, for instance, the stricter supervision of female university students under the Islamic Republic has been credited with making conservative rural families more willing to send their daughters to college, resulting in women becoming more than 60 percent of university entrants. Paradoxically, the short-term restrictions imposed on women at Iranian universities may have dramatically increased their long-term economic independence and resulting social status. In Burkina Faso, where a sympathetic teacher and classmates may be what stands between teenage girls and forced marriage, whatever measures are necessary to make rural parents more comfortable with their daughters' secondary education could also be worth the momentary sacrifice.

Source: Africa Path


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