My vision for girls’ education in Africa: Safety in Schools
by Fatty Al Ansar, Batonga Foundation Intern
When I think of girls’ education in Africa, I dream of a continent where women and men are treated equally. I long for a continent where women are equal contributors to society; a continent where girls receive the same opportunities as their male counterparts so they can tap into their inherent potential. I would love to see every single girl have access to a free, quality education in Africa.
In my home country of Mali, West Africa, there are many barriers to education. Girls are typically seen as domestic while boys are groomed into custodians of the entire community. Too often, poverty forces families to choose which children to send to school. Unfortunately, most use the little resources they have to educate only their boys. I traveled to 45 villages in Mali while conducting a girls’ education campaign last summer, and asked families to share the rationale behind prioritizing boys’ education. Most of them felt that their girls were going to be married and eventually live in their husband’s house. Thus, the investment didn’t make sense, because it was not seen as an investment in their own family.
On top of the cultural barriers is another barrier that is often overlooked: school safety. I cannot emphasize enough how much this affects girls’ education, particularly in rural areas where schools are far from homes. When girls have to travel long distances to get to school, the chance of being raped, attacked, or harassed is often a risk that is too high to take. As the founder of Tilwalte School for Nomad Girls in northern Mali, the issue of girls’ safety is a challenge that I face each day. Parents are afraid to send their girls to school because they are scared that their children will not make it home.
School should be a safe space for all children. No one should not have to risk their lives to get an education. The killings in Garissa, Kenya, Northern Mali, Peshawar, Pakistan, as well as the kidnappings of 276 girls in Chibok, Nigeria, remind us of the value of education. These youth at school were the future of their countries.
When Malala Yousafzai told the United Nations, “The extremists are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women,” she was right. Extremists know that if you educate girls, they will learn to speak out. They will learn to fight back and become unstoppable. And when you see a girl with a book, she will be changed, not only in the family, but also in the nation. So if you want to destroy a nation, destroy the girls. To build our nations, our continent, build up our girls.
In fact, access to education is what stopped my friend Fatoumata’s marriage.
When I was in grade eight, my friend Fatoumata was a brilliant student, very motivated with an electric personality, and a thirst for knowledge and helping others. She never missed class, so I was surprised when I didn’t see her for almost a week. My teacher and some of my other friends went to visit her to see what was going on. We heard that she was being forced to leave school by the man was going to marry her. Instead of complying, Fatoumata ran from her home and left for a year. She was sleeping at friends’ houses. She believed that attending school was more important for her future.
Now Fatoumata is Caporal Chief in the military. She is sacrificing her life in order to better our nation. Fatoumata and I could have been among those 28 million girls out of school today. My parents had to break social norms (my dad had to join the army and sacrificed his own life) for me to access education.
Today, I am at Trinity College, a recipient of a full scholarship from The MasterCard Foundation. I am studying human rights because I want to give justice to the people, to myself. My rights as a girl were violated, and I want to study human rights in more depth so I can fight to get those rights back for every girl. My organization, Tilwalte, is planning to launch the Tilwalte Peace Network in the summer of 2016. This program will train girls as peace ambassadors for their communities and help establish schools as safe spaces.
Despite my ability to overcome the odds, there are still twenty eight million girls between the ages of 5 to 15 who are not in school globally. Many of them don’t even dream of attending school. The ratio of women to men in Africa is 51 to 49. African countries are losing out by not educating the girls. Women are great contributors to the workforce of their countries and to economic growth. Yet, gender inequality in schools is still widely prevalent and too many girls live in fear of going to school. My vision is to expunge this equality completely and make schools safe places for all children.. My life’s commitment is to make sure no girl ever struggles to realize her basic rights such an education. Working alongside the Batonga Foundation, I am committed to securing girls’ education as the top priority in Africa today.
Fatty Al Ansar, originally from Mali, is a Batonga Foundation Intern, Mastercard Foundation scholar, an activist for girls education, and the founder of Tilwate foundation, an organization that seeks to educate, develop and assist Malian girls so that they can achieve a brighter future.