Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Liberia Must Respond to Malala’s Plea

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

Young Pakistani girls’ rights and education activist, Malala Yousafzai, has made a passionate plea for children’s education worldwide. Malala’s plea has come at a time when development programs on issues of poverty, girls’ education and women’s rights (the mDGs) are wrapping up, and the coveted High-Level Panel on the post-MDG is formulating new rounds of plans.

As Malala addressed the United Nations, millions of girls in her native Pakistan were still facing harsh conditions of life. Children, and mostly girls, in sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty and violence have become daily realities, also experience similar harsh realities of deprivation and abuse daily. Malala’s voice is therefore a strong message to heed in Africa, if the dream of a brighter future for Africa’s children must be realized. This plea from Malala for equal access to quality education for children all over the world in the closing years of the MDGs makes the case that much has not be done to address the goals articulated in 2000 even after billions of Dollars in development aid and cooperation, national budgets and charities have been spent. That a goal articulated in 2000 and still an issue of global emergency in 2013, signals a failure on the part of world leaders to address the pressing needs of their respective countries. This failure is conspicuous in the performance of sub-Saharan African countries.

Reports suggest that most Sub-Saharan African countries did not perform well in the seven MDGs, thus making it difficult if not impossible to engage in a global partnership for development with other industrialized or developing countries (Goal 8). In 2011 alone, 57 million children of primary school age were out of school, and more than half of that out-of school children were in sub-Saharan Africa according to the UNDP.

For most countries like Liberia and its neighbors, this failure resulted from state collapse and long time absence of social services. For children/girls, the issue of food, protection against violence and rape in the absence of the state was paramount to the families and communities than education. By the end of the civil war in Liberia, an alarming proportion of young people were uneducated, unskilled and another huge portion accustomed to armed violence. Turning this around has been a serious challenge. Robust national programs beyond political platitudes are needed to ensure access to primary education for children, mostly girls. This requires going beyond the building of infrastructures around the country to creating the environment that ensure increased and sustained girls’ enrollment and access to quality education services. The emphasis on girls’ education in this edition of the series is because traditionally in Liberia, like most of Africa, girls have been deprived basic empowerment opportunities like education and worldwide, 61 percent of the 123 million youth (aged 15 to 24) that lack basic reading and writing skills are young women according to the UNDP. Equally so, those campaigning for girls rights and education need to go a step further from behind the microphones and reach into the communities with programs in mentoring and training and engaging parents on the need for girls education.

Like many societies including Malala’s Pakistan, social and civil issues have a way of giving birth to movements and popular activists. In Liberia, the events of the civil war gave rise to women political and social movements. These movements represent a great opportunity for advocacy and popular demand for education in Liberia.

Girls’ education since the end of the civil war has been widely advocated for, and to the truth, there have been some modest efforts at ensuring increase in female enrollment, but the challenge has been sustaining such enrollment since most girls do not end secondary school. Another challenge is the quality of education provided. The recommendation for policy considering the unspeakable deprivation of girls in Liberia is the need for special national funds on girls’ education. The opportunity Liberia has to ensure this happens is the presence of a female President whose political candidature was sold and bought through a large solidarity campaign from Liberian women. What young Liberian women deserve too, is empathy and a secured future from this woman-led government. My assumption is that a good and remarkable legacy for this woman-led government would be a national program that ensures free education for every Liberian girl up to secondary level. This will be a good response to Malala’s plea.

If most developing countries will take affirmative action that incentivize education for girls, particularly an incentive that eliminates costs on girls and parents, and improves quality, illiteracy will be an issue of the past, and in the same vein, poverty will be defeated. This way, Malala’s pain and sacrifice will not be futile. She will win, and women all over will win.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

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