Efforts to enhance female enrolment in higher education gain momentum
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Efforts to enhance female enrolment in higher education are gaining momentum in Somalia, with Hormuud Foundation's scholarship scheme giving utmost priority to this cause.
Qamar Elmi Abdirahman is a 22-year-old female banking and finance student at the University of Mogadishu in Mogadishu. She comes from a large family with ten siblings. Unlike other university students in the city, Qamar works in a local restaurant as a cashier and waiter for five days a week to provide for her family.
She also serves as an interpreter to facilitate smooth communication between the restaurant's main chef, an Egyptian who doesn't understand the local language, and the rest of the restaurant staff, who speak in Somali.
In exchange, she is given a monthly stipend of US $150 to support her family and herself. Thanks to Hormuud Foundation's education programme, Qamar's university tuitions, and other studies' related expenses are fully covered by the fund. She emerged as a scholar in 2019 after qualifying for the fund.
"It is not a walk in the park to work as a female waiter at a restaurant in Somalia, but I am unique to my colleagues because I have an aspiring future ahead of me since I am in university and will graduate one day," she said.
"The only thing that can positively transform my life will be the skills and academic qualifications I acquire from my studies, hence my extra hard work and effort to shine in my studies," she added.
The Hormuud scholarship roughly covers a total of US $800 per year for her tuition fees, supplies, and internet, meaning that she has little to worry about regarding her studies.
On a similar note, Naima Abdullahi Said is a 19-year-old Geology student at Benadir University in Mogadishu. She is also among the beneficiaries of the Hormuud Foundation scholarship scheme. Very few female students are enrolled at her faculty and Naima is aiming to do her majors in Mining, a field she has been interested to study since her childhood.
Her father, the sole provider of her family is a truck driver and hardly affords to cover the basic needs of his family. As a result, Naima resolved to apply for the Hormuud Foundation scholarship scheme which she saw was the only open door for her to pursue her education dreams.
"Education is dear especially when several of your siblings are in high school and your parents cannot afford to realize your dreams of going on to university. It would not have been possible for me to go to my preferred faculty and the university had it not been the scholarship program," said Naima.
"The qualification exam is fair and open to both boys and girls in equal measure, but we as girls were strongly encouraged to apply for the program when completing our high school studies," she continued.
Naima and Qamar are among a small number of girls who got the opportunity to pursue their higher education at a time many of their peers from primary and secondary schools stay at home due to several challenges, including cultural and financial constraints impeding them from continuing with their studies and accomplishing their academic dreams.
The number of female enrolment at higher education institutes is lower compared to that of their male counterparts. About 17,548 students graduated from the various universities in the country in 2020, out of whom 12,196 (69.5%) were male graduates. Female graduates accounted for 5,352 (30.5%), according to a report by the Iftin Education organization.
With regards to high school graduates in 2021, a total of 30,262 students completed their high school studies, out of whom 11,555 (38.1%) were girls, even though girls clinched five of the top ten students in the entire country. This is a growing optimism but more social and government efforts are needed to be initiated to sustain this progress.
Hormuud Foundation role in enhancing female enrolment in universities
The Hormuud Foundation scholarship program is the only notable education support scheme in the country that provides consistent support to students joining the university in the country. Last year, the program offered particular attention to female candidates, encouraging them to apply in greater numbers.
Hormuud-Salaam Foundation Director, Abdullahi Nuur Osman said special attention was put on ways to increase the number of female applicants of the scholarship program, noting that the efforts yielded positive results. He vowed to sustain the tempo and to encourage more female enrolment in higher education.
"In general, we have observed an increase in the number of women in education thanks to a great deal of sensitization conducted by the education family. As members of society, we will stand by the efforts to ensure equal access to education to our children," he noted.
The Hormuud scholarship program annually offers full scholarships to 30 scholars who are selected through a rigorous qualification exam prepared by Somali education experts and approved by the Ministry of Education. The program is now entering its third year, with its main objective being to offer much-needed support to deserving and high-performing students, but who cannot afford to pursue their studies to financial challenges. The goal is to contribute to the efforts to produce an educated generation that can support themselves, their parents, and their country.
Enhancing basic education in Somalia
With the support of international aid agencies, the Somali government runs an education-related project to increase the number of girls in basic education, with the initiative already bearing fruits. The Care International-run project benefitted about 40,000 girls; a drive that will positively contribute to the enhancing of girls' education in Somalia.
Supported by international donors including the UK and US governments, Somalia's Education Ministry, Engineer Abdullahi Abukar Haji said the initiative attained roughly 88% percent of its goal.
"Educating girls is one of the core plans of the Ministry of Education, as educating girls is tantamount to training an entire society, hence the special importance towards this cause," said Minister Abdullahi, who was speaking at a meeting to assess the program at a government-administered school in Mogadishu.
The efforts to increase the basic education of girls spearheaded by local education organizations with the support of the country's international donors for the past 30 years are registering success despite the slow pace of the progress. It is now time to focus the attention on enhancing female enrolment in universities, a move that will certainly improve the livelihoods of many families in Somalia who are dependent on the work and sacrifices of mothers.