Hiwot Amare – Ethiopia
A combination of political, cultural and psychological solutions
Given the depth and breadth of the problem, I believe there is no one-shot miraculous solution that African leaders can put in place to bring our African girls to school and protect them from the moral and physical assault they face every day. In fact, I think it’s a combination of political, cultural and psychological solutions that, brought together, could change the picture.
Firstly, a top down approach needs to be applied: a strong policy about mandatory school enrollment and attendance of girls (and boys). Not only does it need to be written in the law but it must be seriously controlled. Parents must be fined for not sending their children to school. As the Jules Ferry laws changed France’s school enrollment and quality forever, we need right here in Africa strong policies that make it unlawful for a parent to keep his or her child out of school. Further than the law, controls, regular patrols and neighbor denunciation must be encouraged and incentivized so that it becomes a real social shame not to send a child to school.
Secondly, we need to work hard on shifting social norms. We should ban expressions like “Don’t cry like a girl” (while talking to a boy); “good to marry” (when a girl cooks well); “you can’t marry him, he can’t sustain you” etc. These expressions decree that women are incapable and weak beings waiting to be taken care of. Not only is it accepted by the ones who use these expressions, but it slowly also becomes a fact to the girls who hear them. And when in turn these girls become mothers, they’ll pass this belief to their children. This leads to a vicious circle perpetuated for generations. This is the hardest part of the change that must occur as changing mentality and social norms is far too complex. However, there are solutions to intervene through media, community reunions, women empowerment programs.
Lastly, we need to build a girl’s confidence. Not only will that keep her longer in school but it will also enable her to be a more confident mother who will send her child to school (even if it means imposing it to her husband). Confidence can be thought in different manners. First in school, children must be thought self-defense, what their rights are, respectful relationships between boys and girls etc… Then, we need to give girls role models. We need to make a girl believe, dream and hope that she can achieve something one day. The media, books, movies, shows, etc.… have a great role to play here. Confidence will also enable a woman to protect herself from all sorts of assaults.
To wrap up, I’d like to say that this kind of change will not happen overnight. And that top down solutions don’t work if not backed by societal and mentality changes. The solution must be in a form of combined efforts form the government, civil societies, activist, private companies and the society as a whole.