SOURCE: The Point

The Gambia, a small West African country, faces several challenges in the education sector, including limited access to quality education for girls. Despite these challenges, many young Gambian women are striving to obtain better education and improve their lives.

According to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the net enrollment rate for primary education in Gambia was 87% for both boys and girls in 2019. However, the gender gap widens at the secondary level, where the net enrollment rate for girls drops to 32%, compared to 43% for boys. Additionally, the completion rate for primary education is higher for boys (75%) than girls (63%). These statistics indicate that girls in Gambia face significant challenges in accessing and completing secondary education.

Despite these challenges, many young Gambian women are determined to obtain a better education. One example is Fatoumatta Fofana, who was born in a small village in Gambia. Despite facing gender-based discrimination and financial challenges, Fofana was determined to get an education. She received a scholarship to attend the African Leadership Academy in South Africa and went on to earn a degree from Harvard University. Today, Fofana is the founder of Janga, a social enterprise that provides education and job opportunities for young women in Gambia.

Another example is Isatou Jeng, who founded Girls' Agenda, a non-profit organization that advocates for girls' rights and education in the Gambia. Jeng herself faced significant challenges in obtaining an education, including early marriage and financial difficulties. She was determined to help other girls like herself and founded the Girls' Agenda in 2014. The organization provides education and leadership training for girls and advocates for policies that promote girls' rights and education.

According to a report by Plan International, a global children's charity, many girls in Gambia face challenges such as early marriage, poverty, and cultural attitudes that prioritize boys' education over girls'. The report notes that girls who drop out of school often do so because of financial difficulties or because they are needed to help with household chores or to care for younger siblings.

Despite these challenges, there have been some positive developments in recent years. In 2018, the Gambian government launched the Girls' Education Policy and Strategy, which aims to increase girls' enrollment and retention in school. The policy includes measures such as providing free education for girls up to the age of 18 and increasing the number of female teachers in schools.

In an interview with The Point Newspaper, Yamundow Camara, a 34-year-old Gambian who lost both parents at a tender age, lived in abject poverty, and now her wealth is worth more than $2 million, tells her story. Her mother died when she was at a very young age, and her dad, who was a watchman, had fallen ill and died when she was only 11. She had to grow up as an orphan in a house that lacked electricity and running water.

Fast forward in life, with her sister's help, Yamundow graduated from high school and then the University of the Gambia. After her graduation, she worked as a software engineer when she started a non-profitable organization that taught girls how to code.

After hearing it through friends, she applied for the Mandela Washington Fellowship and received an offer of a fellowship scholarship, and left for the United States in 2016.

“I went from being a village girl who would never be in an airport to getting a fellowship and scholarship, coming to the U.S., seeing things I thought I would never see, meeting people I never thought I would meet,” Camara said. “It’s a dream come true, and I am so grateful to God.”  She would meet President Barack Obama.

Camara noted that after studying at Northern University through the fellowship, she got more funding and earned a master's degree in Information Systems from the University of Illinois. She added that she now runs a bustling rental-real-estate business in the U.S., where she owns more than $2 million in property, including a "dream house for her growing family in an Atlanta Suburb.

In a little under three years of investing, she became a millionaire with multiple sources of income. She got her permanent residency in the US last year.

The director of Science Technology and Innovation at the Ministry of Higher Education Samba Sowe stated that The Ministry has renewed its commitment to supporting and advancing girls' and women's updates in the areas of skills acquisition through TVET, STEM, and scientific research. The goal is to see more girls and women becoming engineers and entrepreneurs in The Gambia.

The Ministry empowers women and girls in science by providing scholarships for women and girls in STEM. The Ministry also gives support to women and girls in taking male-dominated fields of studies in tertiary and higher education, including TVET, by giving full scholarships to women and girls in male-dominated fields.

“The Ministry encourages women leadership, particularly in the tertiary and higher education sector. The Ministry is currently working on creating Innovation Hubs across the country where women and girls will be given more priority.

“It is part of the Ministry’s plans to initiate a national innovation week this year, a platform that will open doors for new technologies, inventions, and careers for Gambians, particularly women, and girls, as they are crucial in promoting economic growth and productivity.”

Samba assured that plans are in place to promote the advancement of women and girls in STEM. As they speak, he added that the concept note is being developed at the ministry level, which will be followed by a proposal, after which resources will be Mobilised to kickstart the campaign.

Young Gambian women face significant challenges in obtaining a quality education, particularly at the secondary level. However, many young women are determined to overcome these challenges and improve their lives through education.

Organizations such as Janga and the Girls' Agenda are working to provide education and opportunities for young women in the Gambia, and government policies such as the Girls' Education Policy and Strategy are aimed at promoting girls' education.

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