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‘Gender and Equity’ campaign shows success, as more parents are putting girls through school
ATENTOU, Togo, 20 May 2008 – According to her school principal in Atentou, 12-year-old Céline is a model student. Four years ago, along with some 60,000 Togolese children, Céline went back to school as part of the UNICEF programme ‘Gender and Equity’. She is still in school today.
The programme, which began in 2004, was developed with the aim of reducing school fees to encourage parents to enrol their children, particularly girls, in school.
In Atentou, the number of girls, which was previously less than half the total number of students, has increased to a now impressive ratio; there are 111 girls and 161 boys receiving an education at Atentou.
“There has been a change in parents’ mentality. Today it is normal to put your daughter through school. The project is a success,” said Mr. Abiyo.
Achieving gender equality in schools
In Togo, almost half of the women aged 15 to 24 years old cannot read or write. However, since the launching of UNICEF support for girls schooling, the gender equality index has risen sharply.
Togo is on track to achieving Millennium Development Goal number three: to eliminate gender disparity in primary education by 2015.
“This has not been easy,” said Latta Tambalo, who teaches a class of seven-year-olds at Atentou. “Girls are not used to speaking in front of the class. They are shy. But after only one school term, the integration was a success. Nowadays, girls perform tasks that were originally exclusively performed by boys.”
School as a priority
Céline was recently chosen for a special duty in her school, one usually reserved for boys. She walked in slowly in her multicoloured dress to the front row desk, to assume the task of school Major – a student who is elected by his or her schoolmates to serve as a link between the teacher and the students.
“Before me it was a boy and then I was elected,” said Céline. “I am in charge of giving the homework to the other pupils, and I make sure that the school yard is swept by everyone in school.”
Before Céline’s family enrolled her in school, she was looking after the cattle while her parents and siblings worked in the field. Now she continues to help her family after class, but her top priority is school.
“There is a widespread belief that girls, once married, will be taken away and monopolized by their husband’s family,” explained Principal Abiyo. “Therefore families preferred to give boys the opportunity to get an education, hoping they will earn more money.
“But today, with the financial help, parents now understand that it could be an advantage to allow girls to get an education, they would not forget their parents anymore. The behaviour of the parents has changed.”