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Women and Higher Education: An Overview of Somalia’s Gender Educational Imbalances

by Hamdi Abdikani Shire
Saturday, January 14, 2017

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” However, this assertion has been ignored in Somalia, where various forces and factors have perpetually and consistently fought to repress the innate ability of women, to prevent the public recognition of their contribution to society.

The collapse of the central government of Somalia in 1991 brutally caused the nearly destruction of all basic services and utilities and unbearably crippled most of the political, social-economic and educational institutions and thus, put the country at the very bottom of the human development index with incessant attacks, assassinations, kidnapping and political instability for over two decades making Somalia a typical example of a failed state among the committee of nations; a state where Women are ignored by their male counterparts and gender inequality is seen as an acceptable norm.

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However, prior to the demise of the central government, Somalia had only one state-owned university located in Mogadishu but as the security and stability of the country improved over the years, a considerable sense of change has been observed in some areas, most notably in the education sector. A recent research project carried out (by Heritage institute for policy studies) in Somalia shows that “there are now close to 50 higher education institutions in different parts of Somalia”

 Notwithstanding this incredible advancement in higher education and most universities open-mindedness in hiring women as lecturers, secretaries and assistants, there is still a significant and alarming gender gap in our institutions. This inequality stems from our primary and secondary schools where the majority of attendees are boys.

This sadly put Somalia in the list of countries with the lowest enrollment of girls in school due to the lack of free primary schools in most regions, lack of awareness and enlightenment, cultural and financial barriers that deprive many girls of their educational rights. Many parents show favoritism of boys over girls based on the belief that boys will give back to the family, while girls will take their knowledge to benefit other families when they marry, and this has exacerbated the problem. Ultimately, education for girls takes a lower priority where parents are barely able to meet their basic daily needs of food and shelter.

Again, the challenges women face in higher education are tied into traditionally held beliefs that women do not have the capacity to manage such tasks, that they are less educated than men and as a result, lack a female-friendly environment that attracts intellectual minds. This has over shadowed women’s ability to contribute in building the minds of the younger generations despite their talents and academic qualifications.

Education for all is a way to fight gender inequality because education boosts the economy and contributes directly to the growth of national income, it also promotes peace by fighting crime and injustice among the community. Female education has powerful effects; women with formal education tend to seek medical care and ensure their children are immunized, this reduces infant mortality rates and improves fertility. They are also more likely to send their children to school, and they are competitive in the workforce making a huge contribution to their society both economically and socially.

All in all, this gender inequality narrative that exists in the education sector is a proof that the need for public education specifically for women is vital. A policy is required that aims to change conservative attitudes towards girls’ education and provide parental incentives to educate more girls. It also calls the need to develop concrete and clear policy documents that set out principles and strategies that support women in Higher education to be part of decision making. Most importantly it clearly shows massive education awareness programs are needed nationwide to inform society about the imperatives of education.

Hamdi Abdikani Shire is a social worker who majored in psychology. A  Part time lecturer at East Africa University and project officer at World vision international.
[email protected]

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