Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Education and empowerment

Photo by Mohammed Amin Jibril/IRIN

It was heartening, I thought, to read during this week leading up to International Women's Day about Fathiya Hassan in Somaliland, who has distinguished herself in a man's world. She is the first female car-washer in the capital, Hargeisa, and has been for the last two years. Then I read a little further and realised that it isn't good news, not at all.

She is only 12 years old, so she started when she was 10. Where has her childhood gone? Most of her clients are women, which she likes, because the men are inclined to pay her less, or threaten to beat her rather than pay at all. The boy car-washers don't think she should be there at all.

But she has to work, she has to help support her family of 11 in Abaye settlement of the capital, because her parents can't manage to provide for them all. She would far rather be going to school rather than making this particular mark in her male dominated world.

Where do you start to try to improve things? She has the freedom to work alongside boys and that is something. But she doesn't have the freedom to go to school. Will she then fall into the same cycle, so often heard, of early marriage, early babies and many of them? Because young uneducated girls' don't have a good knowledge or understanding of contraception and they haven't the confidence to negotiate. Their children are less likely to do well at school or to continue their education beyond the minimum, and daughters in particular are likely to drop out.

The focus must be to empower girls, so that they can make their own decisions, and create their own futures. And how do you empower girls? Education, education, education.

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