Gender Education Issues in Ethiopia

Early marriage
The Ethiopian gender survey of women aged 15 to 49 years in seven regions found that more urban (74.5%) than rural (30.9%) women had ever been to school. Younger women, aged 15 to 19 years, (75.8%) were more likely to have attended school than older women, aged 40 to 49 years, (16.6%). The main reason for girls not attending school was family disapproval and this was more prevalent in rural (54.1%) than in urban (45.5%) areas. Marriage as the reason for non-attendance was given by 23.3% in rural areas and by 16% in urban areas. Marriage as the reason for leaving school was given by 38.6% in rural areas and by 21% in urban areas. Most women (71%) were or had been married. The median age for marriage was 19.1 years for urban women and 16.9 years for rural women.

In rural Amhara in 2003/04, there were strong social and cultural pressures for girls to marry before they were 14 years old. Virginity before marriage was highly valued and an unmarried girl over 14 year was stigmatized. She was an embarrassment to herself and her family and regarded as a financial burden since her contribution to domestic and agricultural activities was not valued. The age of first marriage had been declining since the mothers' average age of marriage was 11 years while their daughters' average age of marriage was 8 years. Early marriage allowed formation of bonds between families and, when families were land rich, it maintained their land holdings. Sons from land poor families, who had reached the age of 18, could obtain land from the peasants association if they married. There was no need for brides to be 18 and they were often under 11 years old. Boys, but not girls, were expected to be successful at the local school. Success for a girl was as a wife and mother and early marriage provided recognition in the community.

The Berhane Hewan package of interventions, in rural Amhara from 2004 to 2006, demonstrated that girls' school attendance could be improved by increasing the age of marriage. Girls in school and those wanting to return were supported by being given school materials. Parents and their participating daughters had to sign a registration form. If the girl was unmarried, parents had to agree not to marry their daughter during the two-year program and, if this condition was met, the girl and her family would receive a goat at the end of the program. The intervention increased school attendance and delayed marriage for girls aged 10 to 14 years compared with controls. The intervention made no difference to girls in the 15 to 19 year age group.

Violence against school girls
Globally, younger children are at greater risk from physical violence while older children are more likely to suffer from sexual violence. Boys are more at risk from physical violence than girls, while girls may face neglect and sexual violence. Patriarchal attitudes perpetuate women's inferior status and increase violence against women. Many of Ethiopia's different ethnic groups share a culture of patriarchal norms and values. Girls are socialized to be shy and obedient and not to speak in front of adults, particularly in front of men. The focus is on her future role as obedient wife and good mother.

The Ethiopian constitution specifies that children are to be protected from harm, violence and abuse but violence against children continues to be widespread. Data were collected from 41 Woredas in all nine regions during 2007. Among teachers, parents and school children, those replying "Yes" to perceiving different types of violence in school or on the way to and from school varied between regions. Teachers perceived the highest levels in Afar (61%), SNNPR (57%0 and Addis Ababa (53%) and lowest in Harari (5%) and Dire Dawa (21%). Verbal assault was the most common form of violence against girls. Girls experienced a number of different forms of violence on their way to and from school. This might be from older boys, boys out of school or members of the community. Local community members might humiliate girls because they were getting an education. The level of perceived violence was generally high (above 40%) with students perceiving the highest levels in Dire Dawa and Tigray. Abduction was least common although teachers did see more of this (17%) than parents (10%) or students (7%). This meant that the journey to and from school was particularly unsafe for girls.

Corporal punishment is prohibited in schools but it is still widely practiced. Both students (34%) and teachers (25%) reported corporal punishment by teachers and parents against girls in school. Apart from corporal punishment, mainly older boys beat up girls to harass and degrade them or in retaliation for a refusal to initiate a sexual relationship. Male students might snatch girls' school materials, intimidate them and threaten to harm them as a way of forcing them into sexual relationships. Parents could take girls' property as a disciplinary measure. School teachers were reported to humiliate and verbally abuse girls in class and this was worse if the girl was attractive. In the school community, girls most frequently suffered verbal abuse aimed at undermining their self-esteem. Other abuse involved touching private parts and punishment for refusing sexual requests. School girls might experience various forms of seduction before being subjected to sexually violent acts. This could be from school boys, teachers or rich sugar daddies who waited outside school gates.

Both boys and girls could experience sexual harassment although girls experienced it more frequently. Members of the school community sexually harassed girls in and around school. Jobless men, unmarried men looking for partners or sex, and married men looking for sex, sexually harassed girls on their way to and from school. In some cases, this could involve sexual assault and rape. Girls in the 10 to 19 year age group were most affected. Rape perpetrators could be diverse men in the community or men passing through the community. When rape occurred at home, perpetrators included uncles, cousins, fathers and stepfathers. Girls could be abducted for marriage which meant the man did not have to pay a bride price. Some compensation might be paid to the girl's parents so they would acknowledge the marriage. Parents could arrange an early or forced marriage against the girl's wishes to continue her education.

Once girls enter school, patriarchal norms and values work against norms and values of modern education which aims to provide equal education for boys and girls. Parents may allow girls to attend school but still expect them to fulfill traditional duties rather than giving then time to do homework or arrive at school before school gates are shut. Girls are expected to participate in class contrary to their training for non-participation. If girls try to meet school norms for participation they are subjected to psychological violence reinforcing patriarchal norms. Girls may also be subjected to violence and abuse at home if they act on new school norms contrary to tradition. This clash of norms continues on the way to and from school with older boys and adult men seeing adolescent girls as unprotected by marriage. Consequently, girls experience physical and sexual violence and are at risk of abduction. Girls' attempts to cope with the educational system may increase their risk of violence and sexual abuse. Girl students were some of the main perpetrators of violence against other girls and they could act as go-betweens for boys in the hope that boys would favor them.

Violence against girls discourages them from attending school. Sexual or physical violence on the way to and from school or at home reduces girls' ability to concentrate in class. Instead of attending to the lesson, they are thinking about the violence they have experienced or worrying about future violence to come. Abuse reduces girls' participation in class even further than normal and reduces their ability to complete homework. Abused girls are more likely to have low attainment, more grade repetition and a higher drop-out rate than non-abused girls.
Most teachers (79%), students (69%) and some parents (55%) were aware of rules to stop violence against girls. Students knew major forms of violence could be punished but there were difficulties in implementing rules. Traditional structures of elders and religious leaders need to be involved since they were preventing implementation. All concerned organizations and stakeholders needed to work towards reducing violence against girls

Sanitary facilities
Both primary and secondary schools may lack a water supply and separate toilets for girls and boys. This is one reason for girls leaving secondary school or missing classes. No privacy and lack of water supply means that girls prefer to stay at home during menstruation. Girls may lack knowledge of menstrual hygiene since the subject is taboo. An intervention in four districts of Southern Ethiopia, identified and tested local material for making sanitary pads, trained local tailors to make and mass-produce them, established local supply outlets and lobbied stakeholders to up-scale. Successful testing and raising awareness of the problem resulted in improved facilities for girls in five primary schools and one secondary school.

Women in higher education
Ethiopian government policy has supported affirmative action for women since its inception in 1994. Women are admitted to higher education with a 2-point GPA lower than men. This increased the female admission rate but also increased their attrition rate. For example, female enrolment in teacher education at Jimma University increased from 16.9% in 2001-02 to 26.23% in 2006-07 but 70.2% of females were dismissed in 2005-06 compared with 15.45% of males. Similarly, female enrolment at Debub University in 2004-05 was 18.22% but their dismissal rate was 35.1%.

Causes for the high female dismissal rate were studied at Jimma University. Students re-admitted in 2007-08 and staff completed questionnaires and took part in focus groups. Only 37% of female students had been taught by female teachers. The advantages of having female teachers were that female teachers were better than male teachers at understanding their problems, they could share their experiences of the challenges they had to overcome, they could discuss their problems freely and find solutions. In class, female students felt free to ask and answer questions and female teachers showed them that it was possible for them to attain higher levels if they worked hard like men. Only 27% of female students had received assertiveness training. However, female students had received informal orientation advice from senior female students in their first year. Lack of assertiveness training encourages female students to feel inferior about their abilities and to lack confidence in speaking up when conflict arises. This contributes to low achievement, dismissal and dropping out. Feelings of powerlessness make them dependent on others such as male students. Some students (46%) had not chosen their university and 74.1% had not chosen their department. The former increased homesickness when they were too far away to visit their parents, and the latter reduced interest in the university and in attending lessons. There was a guidance and counseling service but only 22% of students were aware of its existence and none had attended. Poor time management could be another reason for dropping out. When female students first arrived, their time was wasted by male students repeatedly trying to start love affairs. If a love affair did start, it was the man who decided when they would meet so interrupting the woman's studies. The women agreed with the man's decisions to maintain the relationship and avoid losing the academic benefits the relationship provided. Many students were from poor families and could not afford necessities for education and university life. They might try to resolve their economic difficulties through high risk sexual activity. There was widespread sexual harassment and discrimination from male students and, sometimes, male teachers. Both consensual and non-consensual sex could result in HIV, pregnancy and drop out.

Women can experience all types of violence from childhood onwards but most sexual violence is experienced in high school and in the first year at university. At Wolaita Sodo university, many female students studied in 2011 had experienced different types of violence. Prevalence was: 8.7% completed rape, 23.5% attempted rape, 24.2% physical harassment, 18.7% verbal harassment and 11.3% forced sexual initiation. Having a boyfriend currently or being married could serve as a shield against non-partner sexual violence in the university, although they were still susceptible to sexual victimization by their intimate partners.

Sexual violence from male students was the main research female students gave for the high attrition rate at Debub University. Other reasons included unapproachable instructors, boyfriend's lack of support and belief that they could not compete because affirmative action had allowed them to be admitted with lower grades than men. Boyfriends decided dating times and places which disrupted their studies. Other disadvantages included lack of learning materials, inadequate secondary school preparation and no counseling and guidance service. Pregnancy and sickness were further reasons for dropping out.

The 2014 report from the director of female affairs at Jimma University describes strategies used to empower female students. The concept of affirmative action was understood by both female and male students and by instructors. Seventy-five female students received leadership and assertiveness training. These students actively participated in group work, used the café equally with male students, were successful in exams and were training new female students. Female students were trained in assertiveness, life skills and reproductive health issues. The result was increased ability to say "No", campus living became easier since they could walk alone to the dining room, study areas and around campus, and the number of abortions decreased. Gender consciousness was raised and female students were able to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. Extra cash and materials were provided for needy female students preventing withdrawal for economic reasons. All new female students received an orientation program for university life and high achieving female students were given an award by the university president. Attrition rate decreased from 24% to 3.5% and the number of high achieving female students increased from 40 to 145. The future plan is to raise awareness of gender issues in staff throughout the university and to develop an anti-sexual harassment and misconduct policy.