Mali: Gender equality is an investment for the future

03 March 2021


Children dancing in a village near Bamako, Mali.

In Mali, amid widespread poverty and insecurity, education is a child’s best chance for a better future. This is why it is a top national priority, with major efforts being devoted to giving girls the same opportunities as boys - not only for equal opportunity for all students, but for the future of the country. For Issiaka M’bo Coulibaly, the Head of School Planning and Statistics Unit in the Dioïla district in southeastern Mali, “Women contribute immensely to the development of society, and invest much more in the education of children, and in their health,” he says. “When a woman succeeds, it is good not only for the home, but for society and the country.”

Creating girl-friendly learning environments requires awareness and community engagement. Coulibaly understands that while education is the key to equality in society, school is also where discrimination and stereotypes are sown. “The school staff, the administrators, teachers, and principals need to be cognizant of the inequalities first. Then we can act together to fight against them.”

Experiences from Coulibaly’s personal life have also strengthened his mission to address gender inequality. His wife is in her third year of her Bachelor’s degree in computer management. “She is nearly the first in her class, and this is frowned upon by her male peers. They do not like to see a woman in computer sciences who is performing so well. I give her moral support, and I encourage her, but in reality, I see that the problem exists.”

While access to education has increased in Mali in recent years, boys typically progress faster through school and have higher literacy rates. For example, in 2018, only 37 percent of girls enrolled in secondary school, compared to 44 percent of boys. This has lifelong effects: less than a third of women can read a simple sentence, compared nearly 80% of men. 

“Gender equality is important to me because it is a way for a child - a boy or a girl - to get of poverty. To give all children priority, to give them education, is to give them a future. To block a child from this has no logic,” says Coulibaly.

Social norms and the customs of a locality can drive such disparities, “especially, in the Dioïla cirle, early marriages,” says Coulibaly. In Mali, more than half of all girls are married by the age of 18.

Coulibaly often confronts this reality in his school district, where he has been in charge of planning and statistics since 2015. “We help girls who want to continue their education but their parents want them to marry, at all costs,” he says. “They ask for the school district to intervene and to help support them with their courses and exams.”

To this end, he works closely with the Basic Education Division’s focal point for girls’ education – known locally as SCOFI, which is short for girls’ scholarization. Together with this dedicated unit, embedded in the local school district, Coulibaly helps identify key indicators to monitor the current situation for girls, and prioritizes SCOFI’s interventions for girls’ education in his local action plan for the Dioïla district. This has included activities like a census to help identify out-of-school children in the hope of reaching them and enrolling them in school. Once these types of interventions are integrated into the local action plans, he explains, they are communicated to the central Ministry and can then benefit from national budget allocations.

For Coulibaly, this is a crucial detail in the fight for gender equality. Once there are national gender policies, it means there is an awareness of inequalities – and for this educational planner, this is the first step to dismantling disadvantage and discrimination. Coulibaly has recently taken his own awareness one step further by completing the IIEP-UNESCO Dakar University on gender-responsive educational planning.

He says he now has the skills to apply a more holistic approach to planning, and in his annual reporting, he will look at the myriad of ways gender inequality plays out in education. This will mean highlighting not only disparities in enrollment, but school progression, completion, and between urban and rural communities. “The training made me aware of all the areas where inequalities exist,” says Coulibaly, “And the consequences they carry far beyond.”

About the IIEP-UNESCO Dakar University on gender-responsive educational planning

Organized within the framework of the "Gender at Centre " (Priority to Equality) initiative, this free training is intended for people in charge of planning and those responsible for education in French-speaking African countries. Based on an interactive and practice-oriented learning approach, the University is part of IIEP's efforts to reduce gender inequalities in education.

During the training, participants acquired a thorough understanding of gender issues in and through education, enabling them to analyze the various factors that cause disparities, identify and analyze relevant indicators and data sources, and explain the policy planning process. Finally, participants developed skills to identify concrete strategies and actions to address gender disparities, including their costs, timelines for implementation, and methods for evaluating and monitoring impact.