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In Cameroon, changing attitudes and safe water mean more girls in school

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©UNICEF video
Students at the school in Mbang Mboum, Cameroon, now have access to safe water, which means more girls will be able to attend.

By Gisèle Langue Menye

MBANG, MBOUM, Cameroon, 13 June 2007 – In the village of Mbang-Mboum, traditional attitudes toward girls have long kept them out of school. Domestic chores fall to girls and women, and essential tasks like carrying water for the household take precedence over education.

Now, however, a group of village girls and boys can be seen playing around a water pump located right near their school. The children drink and wash their hands with clean water from the pump.

“We no longer have to walk far to fetch water,” says Aicha, 10, standing at the water pump. “As we also have separate latrines for boys and girls, our parents will accept sending more girls to school.”

Traditional beliefs about gender

Mbang-Mboum, a small village located 50 km from Ngaoundéré, the capital of the Adamawa Province, looks like an ordinary community in Cameroon. Despite parent-education initiatives organized to promote gender equity in homes and at school, much of the population still adheres to traditional customs.

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© UNICEF Cameroon/2007
Girls’ attendance in school is higher in earlier grade levels in Cameroon but still not on par with boys’ attendance.

These beliefs hold that girls should marry early and that girls and women have a lower social status than men.

As a result, most young girls are told they should prepare for their future roles as mothers and spouses. Girls’ education is not seen as important, and the majority of girls stay at home to take care of household chores and younger siblings.

Schools deprived of safe water

A continuing lack of access to potable water also contributes to the difficulty of reaching girls and getting them into school. This is still a serious problem in rural areas of Cameroon, where just 44 per cent of the population has access to safe water, compared with 86 per cent of urban dwellers.

Even Adamawa Province, long considered the country’s ‘water tower’, is severely deprived. Only one out of two households has access to safe drinking water, and most of the province’s rural schools have no water source for their students.

And when schools cannot provide safe water and sanitation, there exists a serious threat to children’s health and hygiene, as well as the quality of education in general.

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©UNICEF video
Traditional women’s roles as spouses and housekeepers keep many of Cameroon’s girls out of school.

Partnerships for education

To improve access to safe water in northern Cameroon, UNICEF has entered a partnership with the government and MTN, a private company that is the country’s leading mobile phone provider. The partnership ensures the provision of water and sanitation facilities for participants in the Child-Friendly, Girl-Friendly School Initiative.

This initiative aims to improve educational access and quality for the most vulnerable groups in 6 of Cameroon’s 10 provinces. The programme, which covers some 300 schools, provides teacher-training, materials and school equipment such as furniture and textbooks. It also installs safe water and sanitation facilities in schools to improve hygiene.

The drilling of a borehole to provide the safe water point near the Mbang Mboum school was one such installation.

At the end of 2007, about 1,300 children in six schools will have benefited from this initiative. However, 118 schools in the initiative’s target areas are still in need of safe drinking water.

‘A big step forward’

“Our goal is that this partnership will bring all our children to school and that our children’s health will improve,” says M. Yaya Aboubakar, a communication agent responsible for mobilizing parents to support and take part in their children’s education in Mbang Mboum.

“We can already say that since the water wells were established, the school attendance among girls has improved,” he adds.

According to Mr. Aboubakar, for the first time ever, none of the girls who registered for the final exam at the village school have dropped out. For the ongoing school year, 23 pupils – of whom 14 are girls – have been registered.

“This is a big step forward,” says Mr. Aboubakar. “Our hope is to maintain and replicate this positive trend in other parts of the country.”


 

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Video
UNICEF correspondent Natacha Ikoli reports on efforts to educate more girls in Cameroon by providing safe water in schools and addressing social attitudes on gender.

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