SEATTLE — In 2000, UNICEF developed the Gender Equality and Basic Education program to improve access to equal education in Djibouti. The program is part of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals that strive to improve global wellbeing, two of which focus on providing access to primary education and promoting gender equality in schools.
Poverty rates have the most adverse effects on access to quality education in Djibouti City. In 2004, in the city center, almost every child who should have been attending school was enrolled. The urban areas of the city were a different story. The poorer the community was, the lower the registration rates were. This was either because children couldn’t afford to attend or because the schools were of poor quality. In the rural areas, where many people live nomadic lifestyles, few children were attending school, and this is where the gender disparity still lies. A school launched in December 2003 had 106 students, of whom only six were girls.
The objectives of the Gender Equality and Basic Education program, established in 2000, were to improve school capacity and learning environments and to ensure that 93 percent of children 6 to 11 years had access to quality primary education by 2010. Their strategies? Renovating old schools and building new ones, improving access to energy, hygiene, sanitary water, educational activities and campaigning to mobilize increased school enrollment.
UNICEF took action by building schools in rural areas, rehabilitating urban schools with the goal of increasing capacity, installing solar panels, latrines and water points in schools. They encouraged students and parents to be involved in managing school environments and campaigning through media, local representatives and neighborhood associations to encourage school enrollment. These campaigns still happen during UNICEF’S Education Week for All and the National Day for Girls’ Education.
From 2002 to 2006, the net enrollment in Djibouti increased from 43 percent to 66 percent, with 67 percent of city children enrolled and 49 percent of rural children enrolled. In 2005, the World Food Programme moved to support girls’ education in Djibouti by providing two meals a day to students in 55 schools. Girls who came to school for 21 days out of the month received a can of oil to take home or sell.
Despite the rise in enrollment, there was still progress to be made in equal access to school facilities and in gender equality. An attendance survey conducted by students in 2007 revealed the main causes of non-enrollment to be poverty, social problems, disability and parental views on education. Some parents don’t see the importance of educating girls or children with disabilities or the positive impact they can have on society.
This survey spurred UNICEF’s advocacy for girls’ education in areas where parents were reluctant to send them to school. UNICEF also continued to work toward 93 percent enrollment and gender equality in schools by 2012.
In 2014, the World Bank Group and the government of Djibouti signed a $3.8 million grant to advocate for the government’s Access to Quality Education Project. According to All Africa, the grant is “designed to support government efforts to improve the overall quality and capacity of its education.” UNICEF continues its efforts by campaigning during the National Day for Girls’ Education and the Education Week for All each November.
– Rachel Cooper