From Senegal, meet a champion for gender equality

08 March 2021


A young girl looks out the window at school in Sine-Saloum, Senegal.

In recent decades, Senegal has made major progress in achieving gender parity at the primary and secondary school levels. However, wide disparities exist from one region to another. Women are also little present in the decision-making bodies of education administrations. Meet one woman who is challenging the status quo.

"During my high school studies in science, a math teacher once challenged us: "There are many of you here, but you know that this (scientific) field is not for you, you might end up doing Saint Catherine's hair.” This means going beyond the age of 25 without getting married – often considered a dishonour for a family. “Most of my female classmates ended up dropping out of school, and our teachers did not encourage us.”

These are the words of, Ndeye Yacine Fall, a Senegalese participant from the recent IIEP-UNESCO University in Dakar on gender-responsive educational planning. Fall is Head of the Partnerships, Communication, and Gender Office for the District Inspectorate of Thiés, a decentralized service of the Ministry of National Education some 70 kilometers from Dakar.

"I am in charge of implementing the government's policy to keep girls in school. I coordinate this policy at the regional level. After noting the disparities in the national education system, the Minister of National Education set up a department and units in charge of gender issues. The gender units have respondents within the districts. It is up to us to advocate, raise awareness, and find partners who support the government's willingness to reduce gender disparities in education.”

Fall is also the regional executive secretary of the coordination framework for interventions on girls' education (CCIEF), a structure also put in place by the Ministry of National Education to foster synergy among the actors involved in promoting girls' education, both public authorities and civil society organizations working in the sector. CCIEF has branches in all regions and departments.

The right to education as a fundamental human right for girls and boys

"My approach to gender equality in education is simple: education is a basic human right for both boys and girls. This means that girls and boys should have equal opportunities to realize this fundamental right. Senegal has ratified many international instruments recognizing both the right to education and gender equality. We also have laws and policies, such as the National Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality (2016-2026). But often the social environment is the first obstacle to the realization of these commitments.”

Persistent challenges in the school environment

"Gender parity in school alone is not enough to achieve true equality in education. Despite the progress made in Senegal, early marriage, especially in rural areas, and gender-based violence in schools remain a reality. Studies have shown that this is directly correlated with school performance and repetition.

However, the curriculum does not address these sensitive issues head-on, and we lack reliable data on certain issues to make strong advocacy and develop effective policies. I think that for gender-sensitive planning to promote equality, we need to go out into the field: conduct research, surveys, and have reliable data. Households need to be surveyed, and that requires financial resources. We are moving in the right direction, but in reality, we are just scratching the surface.”

Training for change

"We now have gender advisory positions in schools that are reserved for women so that girls see role models of successful women in life. But even though we women are increasingly present in offices, classrooms and ministries, we don't necessarily have the training to do gender equality advocacy.

This is why I am participating in the university on gender-responsive educational planning. This training strengthens our capacity to develop our advocacy: we need to be able to argue, to have the data and the tools to assert our rights.”

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.