SEATTLE — Cameroon has made great strides in improving children’s access to education in the past decade. With a promising net primary school enrollment of 88 percent, the country’s figures rank among the highest in west and central Africa. Despite this, there remains a notable gender gap: between ages 6 and 14, only 80 percent of girls attend school in comparison to 94 percent of boys. Subsequently, the overall literacy rate of Cameroonian girls is 68.9 percent, a contrast to the 81.2 percent literacy rate for boys.
The inhibition of girls’ education in Cameroon largely stems from cultural expectation. “Forty percent of girls abandon school before they reach the fourth and fifth years of primary education,” Daouda Guindo, UNICEF’s Cameroon operations chief, told VOA News. “Thirty-one percent of girls get married before the age of 15.”
To parents, prioritizing male education is often seen as a better long-term allocation of resources, because social factors will inevitably relegate girls to cooking, cleaning and premature marriage. In order to achieve gender equality, this cultural narrative needs to change. Fortunately, there are women in Cameroon that have triumphed against the odds and broken the glass ceiling. These five individuals not only challenge the socially presumed capacity of female potential, but they are now using their authority to spearhead educational opportunities for girls.
Hawou Adamou Fights Child Marriage in Cameroon
Adamou’s story is an echo of the adversities endured by many other girls and women in her country. Growing up, she was barred from attending school, and instead worked in the local market until entering an arranged marriage at the age of 16. Following her husband’s death, her family-in-law spurned her because she could not work. She had never been given the tools to be self-sufficient. Adamou has since founded the Hausa Women’s Association for Development to prevent other girls in her region from experiencing the same plight. Her association teaches parents the value of girls’ education in Cameroon, gives women a foothold towards financial security and actively advocates for the abolishment of child marriage.
Rose Leke Promotes Gender Equality
Dr. Leke, the 2018 Heroine of Health recipient, has been a professor of medicine and biomedical sciences at the University of Yaounde for nearly three decades. In addition to teaching, she runs a malaria research program and is involved with polio eradication efforts across all of Africa. She is also a strong proponent for gender parity, as shown through her work with the Higher Women Cameroon Consortium, which provides mentoring and skill-building opportunities for women.
Persis Mbangsi Encourages Women in Science
As the only woman among 500 engineers at the aluminum plant where she works, Mbangsi is keenly aware of Cameroon’s gender disparities. To combat this, Mbangsi established a social media initiative called Hidden No More Cameroon. The platform showcases the accomplishments of women and girls in science and technology. Mbangsi hopes to confront the current cultural precedent, motivate the younger generation and celebrate the hard work of other women presently working in male-dominated fields.
Janet Fofang Organizes STEM Education
Fofang is the director of Girls in Tech Cameroon, a program affiliated with the NexGen Technology Centre. Here, young girls can learn to write code, develop advanced computer skills and craft robots. It is one of the many initiatives Fofang has organized, including a technological school for 800 pupils, a women in STEM event meetup and a personally mentored team that went on to compete in the inaugural FIRST Global robotics competition in Washington, D.C.
Leila Kigha Helps Fund Girls’ Education in Cameroon
Kigha volunteers for several humanitarian organizations in Cameroon, but is perhaps best known for coordinating the ShineALight Africa initiative, which unites women in a cooperative through which they can sell their farm produce as a group. The generated income will help pay fees to keep girls in schools. She credits the initiative to her grandmother, Nsaigha Thecla, who repudiated social norms and sent her daughter (Kigha’s mother) to boarding school for a quality education in Cameroon. Kigha emphasizes that her grandmother ultimately opened the door for her by breaking tradition. “I honor and celebrate my grandmother, a woman who defied all odds to educate her daughter. The ripple effect of her investment in her girl child is still being felt and is waxing stronger today,” she wrote in an article for Time.
Improving girls’ education in Cameroon is a critical step in creating more ripples like the ones above. Female innovation is an anomaly by construct only. By providing a comparable amount of resources and opportunities to women, the threshold for human development rises.
– Yumi Wilson