She has been called the champion of girls’ education and for this she has received many accolades. Aicha Wah Diallo is our guest of the week. Guinea’s former education minister has fought for the education of young girls in his country. In particular, she has worked to ensure that pregnant girls are not expelled from school during their pregnancy. A fight that is far from Guinea, imitated elsewhere. Former UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Aicha Wah Diallo, interviewed Rilio Koubakin. Maintenance …
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DW: Hello, Madam Minister, what do you notice about the trend of young girls going to school in West Africa?
Aïcha Bah Diallo: Well, there has been a lot of progress, since Dakar in 2000, there has been a lot of progress. But according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, although equality has been achieved almost at the primary level and at the secondary level, we still have 97 million children of primary or secondary school age who are still out of school. And among them, 51.7 million girls: this is in West and Central Africa. And so we still have a lot to do.
Sometimes girls are forced to drop out of school because they are pregnant and so they are expelled from school. Is the incident marginalized in West Africa?
Fortunately, that is changing. The effects of Covid-19 are still there. You know that the effects of Covid-19 in African countries have been terrible because schools have been closed and we have seen that, for example, at pre-school and secondary levels, 128 million children have been affected by the closure of classes.
Yet it is true that some countries, with the help of their partners, have developed a strategy to ensure educational continuity for students through the use of radio, television or digital platforms and sometimes pre-printed distribution. But we know very well that there are families for television who do not have television, do not have continuous light.
It must be said that in West and Central Africa, about 48% of students did not benefit from these educational opportunities. And so, the epidemic has intensified inequality in access to education and learning. And especially girls suffer from it. Because, many girls’ marriages have stopped when school is closed. There are some who have been victims of forced labor or even rape.
And you also know that there are conflicts that create a very serious problem. Currently, schools are closed in northern Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Conflicts therefore form a break on the education of all children and girls in particular.
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You said this: “When I was a high school student myself, I was shocked to see the treatment of pregnant students who were expelled from the institution.” You told TV5 Mond that one of your classmates, for example, felt it in second grade. And it told you that when you were a minister, it would no longer exist. What have you done, Ginny?
Exactly. This girl, this woman is one of the reasons I fight against the exclusion of girls. Parents and educational institutions are responsible for this situation. And so we have to accept that.
What did I do? Campaigned. I started with my office. When I explained to them the real reason, I said: “We did not do our duty. They were not given any weapons, that is, they were not given sex education. The parents did not tell them about it.” That’s not good guys. But I have still led the campaign for two years to convince parents that girls need to go back to school. But there is another issue, child marriage. Why am I fighting against child marriage? Because it continues.
Are you proud today that pregnant girls are no longer sent back to Guinea?
You know when I was successful at it, I talked about it with the FAVE (Forum for African Women Educators, Forum for African Educators). That’s how Faway caught it. Today, I can tell you that almost all African countries have adopted this policy, in order to integrate it into their education policy, the return of single mothers to school.
We understand, Madam Minister, that even when girls have access to schools, there are barriers like lack of access to toilets reserved for girls. Especially when there are menstrual questions that interfere. Is this also a dimension that leaders forget to consider in schools?
Yes. Not only will there be separate toilets, there will be an infirmary where sanitary napkins can be given to young girls. That is why there must be a hearing center. Must have a water point, separate toilet. Otherwise the young girls will not go there. You know, boys are very annoying, annoying.
How do you improve the education of girls in West Africa and Central Africa in general? Or maybe even in this question, what is the benefit of sending the girl to school?
Take my example: If I had not gone to school, I would have been milking cows in the village. Women are the key to the development of the country.
Encourage all kids to go to school and never accept that girls are on the side of the road. They have the same possibilities, the same rights. It is a question of fundamental rights. Anyway, at least I didn’t go down without explaining myself first.