Women in Higher Education in Ethiopia

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.