27 February 2012
Until eighth grade, an equal number of boys and girls attend the Catholic school in Meki, Ethiopia. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Ethiopia is struggling to give both boys and girls equal opportunities for education — an issue journalist Peter Lemieux explored in the pages of ONE in 2009:
If growing up in Ethiopia these days were a race, these children would appear to be off to a good start. But a closer look reveals an unfair contest, one that favors the boys.
While Meki Catholic School makes every effort to maintain gender balance — an equal number of boys and girls make up its primary grades — the number of girls enrolled in the school’s secondary classes drops sharply. For the girls fortunate enough to remain in school, the harsh reality of Ethiopia’s tradition of gender disparity hits harder than a stiff headwind in a 50-yard dash.
Against a metal fence enclosing the school grounds, Messeret Yohannes, an 18-year-old senior, discusses the future with her girlfriends. All expect to go to college. And all hope to become professionals either in accounting, banking, education or medicine. Given the school’s outstanding achievements, high aspirations such as theirs are certainly realistic. From among the graduating class, 94 percent are expected to attend college, compared to 30 to 35 percent nationally.
“I want to be a lawyer or maybe go into business,” says Messeret, whose voice grows bolder and more confident as the boys move out of eavesdropping distance.
As with other students at the school, most of these girls hail from families who make their living from subsistence farming and small trade. When asked to explain why women make up less than 20 percent of their senior class, the girls begin talking all at once. Cutting through the chatter, Messeret takes the lead and speaks for the group. “That’s the economic part of it,” she asserts.
“The drop-off happens throughout the country at the high school level, not just at our school,” adds the school’s popular headmaster, Brother Betre Fisseha, F.S.C.
“It’s the legacy of the Ethiopian social and cultural tradition. Girls are burdened with a big part of the families’ work, especially in rural areas. If their parents need help fetching water, herding animals or taking care of younger siblings, the girls go home. This obstructs the continuity of their education, particularly following elementary school.”
Read more in An Uphill Battle.
Tags: Ethiopia Education Africa Women (rights/issues) Catholic education