Healthy mothers, healthy children, making healthy communities in Ethiopia

Dugem, Tigray REGION, Ethiopia, 21 December 2017 – In the health post at Dugem village, in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Berhan Zebraruk, 25, gently strokes her child’s cheek and then gives him a sweet tickle on the tummy. Her first born, Awot Kaleab, is quick to respond to her touch. He cracks a beautiful smile displaying his toothless gums and looks his mother right in the eye for the play to continue. The little boy is restless. He grabs his mother’s cell phone and when that is taken away from him, he turns his attention to the baby next to him.

“My boy likes to play with everything he holds,” says Berhan. “I have to keep an eye on him, otherwise he put things in his mouth.”

Awot is now 9-months-old and it is time for his measles vaccination, which would complete his set of basic vaccinations for children under the age of 1, as recommended by WHO and the Ethiopia National Expanded Program on Immunization.

It is a special day for Berhan. Shortly after Awot received the vaccine, the health extension worker, Genet Desta, registered his name in the vaccine book. Then she called out Berhan’s name and handed her a certificate, a recognition that is given to mothers when their children complete taking the necessary vaccines.

Maternal and Child Health, TigrayBerhan is applauded by the other mothers in the health post for successfully vaccinating her child. She is also recognized as a role model for her best child feeding practices, including exclusively breastfeeding her son for his first six months.

Berhan attended school up to grade 10. Since she was a little girl, her dream was to become a doctor. Instead, she got married and became a housewife like many other women in her village. Yet, her education is considered an achievement in the eyes of fellow villagers.

“I wanted to become a doctor because I saw health workers treating people in my village,” says Berhan. “That wasn’t meant to happen for me, maybe it will for my son,” she added, gazing down at him.

Berhan understands that her child can only fulfil her unrealized dream if he grows up healthy and well. When she knew that she was pregnant with him, she started her pregnancy follow-up relatively earlier than other mothers.

‘’Berhan attended all of the four antenatal follow-ups and took the iron supplement properly,” says Genet, the health worker. “She was very conscious of her health and that’s why her child is very healthy.”

In Ethiopia, an increasing number of women are receiving care by skilled health workers both during pregnancy and childbirth. In the Tigray region, where Berhan lives, for instance, 90 percent of women receive antenatal care by skilled attendants, at least once, during their pregnancy, which is well over the national average of 62.4 percent.

In addition, 59 percent of the region’s mothers are giving birth in health facilities, instead of the old tradition of home delivery.

The country has seen significant improvement in immunization coverage over the past two decades. In 2000, it was only 14 per cent of Ethiopia’s children under the age of 2 who have received all the basic vaccinations, but in 2016, that number soared to almost 40 per cent.

Owing to its well-established community-based health service provision, Ethiopia is also enjoying a reduction in maternal and child deaths. Maternal mortality which was 871 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 has dropped to only 412 in 2016, a reduction by more than half in just 16 years. The same is also true when it comes to child mortality. More children in rural Ethiopia are celebrating their fifth birthday than ever before.

The nearly 40,000 female health workers, together with the women of the Health Development Army, easily access women and children in every household and provide much needed advice and services, including immunization to prevent the most debilitating child illnesses.

UNICEF is supporting the different components of the programme by providing both financial and technical assistance. UNICEF also supports the management of common childhood illnesses including malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and severe acute malnutrition at the health post level, contributing to a significant reduction in deaths.

Berhan’s task as a mother, caring and nurturing for Awot, symbolizes the bright future that lies ahead of children in rural Ethiopia. She is well equipped with skills and knowledge that will enable her to provide critical health and nutritional care for her son. Further help is also available since services, even for those in remote communities, are now more accessible.

Against all Odds, South Sudanese Refugees find a way to access education

By Amanda Westfall

On 19 December, 2017, Nyawal John, a South Sudanese 17-year-old girl says that her goal in life is to be educated. After escaping conflict in her village in South Sudan, she is doing whatever it takes to access education in Ethiopia.

Their villages are ravaged as they flee conflict and leave family, livelihoods and education behind. They travel for months, sometimes without food, water, or shelter, to arrive in a new country that offers the basic services required for survival. But when the South Sudanese people spend year after year waiting for the conflict in their country to subside, the time keeps ticking on their education.

Nyawal John, 17, who arrived in Tsore Refugee camp in Benishangul-Gumuz, Ethiopia two years ago, has gone almost three years without formal education. As a young teen, she had to leave almost everything behind in South Sudan – even her parents, who she hasn’t heard from since fleeing, not knowing if they are alive today or not.

Tsore Refugee Settlement offers pre-primary and primary school, but unfortunately, there is currently no secondary school available for Nyawal who says that she should be attending 9th grade right now.

But this did not stop Nyawal in her ambitions for education. She first started working as a translator at the camp health centre. However, she felt detached from education so decided to be a teacher in the camp’s pre-primary school, which is where she is currently working.

At the school, she teaches a total of 85 four-year-old children each day where she is exposed to new UNICEF-supported teaching and learning materials and capacity building programmes. She is able to use the various skills and materials to improve her teaching and also help her gain new knowledge for her own educational growth.

The main thing Nyawal wants right now is to learn. “I need to get knowledge. In the future what I want is to finish my education … If there is a place in my country for this I will be there. But iff it is here, I will be here.”

Nyawal dreams of being a computer scientist one day. When she was a young teenager in South Sudan, her father bought her a computer from Rwanda, which she cherished and managed to carry with her as she fled to Ethiopia. Unfortunately, because of financial needs she had to sell it once she arrived. Still, she has managed to continue practising by going to Tsore’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs office weekly to use their computers.

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Education for Refugee and Host Community Children in Tsore Zone pre school Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia Tsore Zone A Pre School, Assosa. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

From site to site in the camp there is an ardent yearn for education. Kemal Olika, an Ethiopian teacher in the refugee primary school in the camp says it best, “Without any training and just by their confidence, they [refugee teachers] still teach and strive for education. I appreciate them. Even the [refugee] students’ respect is very high. South Sudanese respect the teachers. They listen. They really want to learn.”

At the settlement, UNICEF supports the refugee children’s aspirations for education. Through an integration programme with the host-Ethiopian communities, UNICEF supports teacher training programmes and extra-curricular activities including; materials and equipment for sport, play and learning – so that refugees can benefit from their host country’s education system. In addition, UNICEF supports the construction of new classrooms to ease the congestion in schools and advocates for construction of secondary schools for older students, like Nyawal.

When forced away from everything she knows – her home, parents, schooling, and cherished computer – against all the odds, Nyawal continues to strive for education.

FGM/C survivors teach communities to end the practice in Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

“I used to believe 12 years ago that FGM/C is a mandatory requirement in our religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

Mille, Afar, 23 January 2018 – “My labor took two nights and a day. I was in so much pain. It was a very painful experience and most of all, I was a child myself.” says Kedija Mohammod, a mother of three children (ages 12, 8 and 5).

Kedija learned about the harmful effects of FGM/C through community conversations supported by the UNICEF-UNFPA Joint Programme, in partnership with Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA), to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C in the Afar region.

FGM/C or locally known as KetnterKeltti, the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, is a highly prevalent traditional practice in Ethiopia that has a multi-dimensional impact on the lives of girls and women.

According to Ethiopia and Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) 2016, FGM/C rate in Afar is 91 per cent for ages of 15-49, placing it among the highest prevalent regions in the country next to Somali. Moreover, the region practices Type III infibulation, which is the most severe form of FGM/C characterized by the total elimination of the external female genitalia and stitching, leaving a small opening for urination.

“No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

The UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme, which was launched in November 2008, promotes community-led discussions on harmful practices like FGM/C in which communities are empowered to progress toward collective abandonment.

The programme targets 9 districts (3 in zone 1 and 6 in zone 3) in the Afar region, each having multiple sub-districts. A total of 60 trainers were trained for married and unmarried adolescent girls from these districts and they are trained on harmful practices and menstrual hygiene in order to lead various discussion groups in their communities. These married and unmarried adolescent girls’ clubs aim to facilitate sustained awareness.

FGM/C prevention and care Afar
Zahara Mohammod, 28 discusses about FGM/C with “Unmarried Adolescent Girls’ Club” at Mille Woreda, Afar. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2018/Tadesse

Zahara Mohammod, one of the trainers in Mille Woreda, testifies that the programme has brought a huge difference in the community. She says, “People used to think that FGM/C is required by the Quran, but the programme has raised awareness among the community on the lack of direct link between the practice and religion. People are now listening and most have changed their stance. Women used to give birth in their houses, and we have lost many due to prolonged labor. But now, the Barbra May Maternity Hospital is a few minutes away from our village, so women go to the hospital for delivery and treatment. This is happening because of community conversations and girls’ club discussions in our villages.”

Kedija, an FGM/C survivor herself, regrets having made her daughter go through the same procedure. She says, “I used to think 12 years ago that FGM/C is mandatory and a requirement in my religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

However, Kedija is now teaching her community and sharing her experience. “ I have been working with the community for two years now and the change motivates me to do even more. People used to mock me at first because FGM/C is considered as a religious practice, but many have changed their attitude and are thankful for our discussions now. I have never thought FGM/C could have consequences like mental and emotional damage until I had my first intercourse with my husband. No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

While talking about her daughter, Kedija says, “I have shared my experience with my daughter. She is aware of the consequences. My daughter is now in grade 7. I will not marry her off to anyone out of her will. She will get married when she finishes her education. I hope she will marry an educated man who can take care of her and take her to the hospital during her labor.”

According to Seada Moahmmod, at BoWCA, these discussions have been increasing awareness and openly challenging community perspectives towards FGM/C. She says, “The community’s awareness has improved a lot, and people discuss openly about the practice. They used to think that exposing stories would lead them to discrimination, but cases are now exposed to local enforcement bodies.  Many households have already rejected FGM/C. It is quite a success.”

While positive outcomes have certainly been observed in the districts, Zahra Humed, Head BoWCA of the region, says, “The outcome of the programme has been very rewarding and the behavioral change we have attained is wonderful. However, we still need to continue working until all districts abandon the practice once and for all. ”

A child’s example demonstrates the need for integrating educational services for refugees and host communities in western Ethiopia.

By Amanda Westfall

On 21 December 2017, eight-year-old Ethiopian Sefadin Yisak speaks about his friend on the hill, Adam, a nine-year-old, South Sudanese refugee boy. When boundaries, legal restrictions and cultural differences can divide communities, it is the children who remind us of the great importance of social integration.

Children truly know no borders. To Sefadin Yisak, an Ethiopian student at Tsore Arumela Ethiopian Primary School, Adam, a South Sudanese refugee who attends primary school within the neighbouring refugee settlement, is just his good friend. Sefadin doesn’t see the differences in history, culture or in the quality of educational services. He only sees the South Sudanese refugee boy as his good friend that he met at the river over the summer. They meet and play in the water with other neighbourhood kids when they don’t have school or other chores to do.

“To Sefadin, Adam (a South Sudanese refugee) is just his good friend. He doesn’t see the differences in history, culture or educational services.”

But from an adult’s perspective, it is evident that educational services have not been equal between refugees and their host-Ethiopian communities. With the host primary school only a 15-minute walk from the refugee settlement, one can truly notice the differences.

In addition to their struggle to survive and flee from conflict, the South Sudanese refugees experience lack of quality education due to unskilled teachers, overcrowded class sizes and exclusion from the national educational system and the services it provides. On the other hand, some refugee settlements have in some cases benefited from other services, including better-constructed classrooms, play equipment and materials for teaching, while the host communities often experience a lack of funding to improve classroom infrastructure and educational materials.

Thus, these inequalities in educational provisions can create social barriers that could potentially build unnecessary tension between communities. In reality, there are more similarities between the communities than differences, such as language, food, family customs, and a passion for education.

When South Sudanese people residing in Ethiopia for multiple years (some over 20 years, some less than one year), and children from both communities – like Sefadin and Adam – show us the importance of integration, it is crucial to support this clear demand.

Sefadin says that his favourite school subject is mathematics because his 2nd grade teacher, Ahmed Mustefa, is very helpful. Ahmed explains the importance of integration with the refugee communities. He noted that the communities never lived in conflict, but that the lack of integrated services has limited the amount of authentic social interaction with the refugee community who live just a short walk away. He adds, “We are all human beings and when we live together it is better for socialization.”

“We are all human beings and when we live together it is better for socialization”

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Children at Sefadin’s host-community primary school play on equipment provided with the support of UNICEF. The refugee settlement is visible in the top left corner, where schools also enjoy the same play equipment provided with UNICEF’s support. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Martha Tadesse

Institutions recognize the need

Institutions have started recognizing the need, and in response have begun providing services that support integration. With the support of the United States Government (US-BPRM), UNICEF has been working with partners – the Ministry of Education, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, UNHCR, and Save the Children – to bring equitable and efficient educational services that spark social cohesion for both communities.

Refugee and Ethiopian teachers join the same training programme

Ahmed’s teacher training programme is a prime example.  In his region of Benishangul-Gumuz, 149 refugee teachers and 225 host-community teachers have all taken part in the new UNICEF-developed teacher training flagship programme, Assessment for Learning. This new approach shows teachers how to implement continuous assessment techniques to better understand the learning gaps of children and respond accordingly.

It is the first of its kind – where refugee and national teachers learn the same skills at the same time. Ahmed and other teachers from both communities stayed in the same dorms for the 10-day course, learned from each other, and now feel more part of each other’s communities. Before this training, refugee and national teachers never interacted professionally. They were trained with different programmes, and in most cases, it was the refugee teachers who missed out on professional development and teacher enhancement opportunities. Now, with more equality in refugee and host-community teachers’ knowledge and skills, Ethiopian students, like Sefadin, and refugee students, like Adam, both benefit from teachers who were trained in the same teacher training programme.

Integration through sport and play

What’s most exciting about the integrated response is the development of sport and play activities. Both communities now enjoy new play equipment and learning and play materials such as balls, toys, puzzles, counting blocks, and others. Teachers are trained on the “Connect, Reflect, Apply” approach, to develop useful life skills in children. Both Sefadin and Adam now have new equipment to play and are learning the same life skills, in addition to enjoying the benefits of new solar-powered TV’s that display educational programmes.

More efforts are necessary for sustained integration

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Sefadin and his 2nd Grade teacher, Mr. Ahmed Mustefa © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Martha Tadesse

While some refugee settlements in Ethiopia have experienced integration, in terms of students attending the same school, teacher training integration, or social cohesion through extra-curricular activities, many communities still lack support for equitable integration.

Communities have started to integrate, whether it be working for each other during harvesting season, inter-marriage, or making friendships while playing in the river. Even Sefadin’s family is now supporting Adam’s family with food provisions, like sorghum, maize and mango.

It is time to truly respond to the needs on the ground. Ahmed insisted that “we need more programmes like these for integration,” as he reflected on his new friendships he developed with refugee teachers from the training programme.  And young Sefadin adds that it would be “cool if Adam were in my class.”

When boundaries, cultural differences, and varying educational services can divide communities, it is the children – like Ethiopian Sefadin and South Sudanese Adam – who remind us of the great importance of social integration.

UNICEF continues to work with partners to implement programmes that spark integration of refugees and host communities in all five refugee-hosting regions of Ethiopia so that cross-cultural friendships, like that of Sefadin and Adam, can be supported with an equality in educational services.

What it takes to truly educate a girl in Ethiopia – An entire system investing in quality education

By Amanda Westfall

Filmawit Layn, a ten-year-old girl at Addishihu Primary School in the Emba Alaje Woreda (District), Tigray Region is the type of student and daughter most parents dream of – smart, beautiful, and extremely confident.

EMBA ALAJE WOREDA, TIGRAY, 01 December 2017 – Filmawit Layn is from rural Ethiopia and attends public school, where although school structures and teachers are in place, the quality of teaching has been notably weak. In Ethiopia, less than half of all primary school students are passing their end-of-year exams, and only 4 per cent of Grade 2 students can proficiently read (NAEA 2016 and EGRA 2014).

These statistics raise concerns if children – like Filmawit – are actually learning at school and developing skills that will help them reach their full potentials, realize their dreams, and lead their country one day.

“…if children – like Filmawit -are developing skills that will help them reach their full potentials, realize their dreams and lead their country one day.”

To address these concerns, UNICEF and the Government introduced the Assessment for Learning (AfL) initiative – where teachers are equipped with skills, resources and a supporting environment to shift their teaching approaches to become more active, continuous, competency-based, and engaging for students, with the ultimate goal of improving learning outcomes.

Through UNICEF-designed capacity building workshops, teachers are learning how to collect real-time information on their students’ learning levels. This way teaching is better informed, lesson planning is better prepared, and wider support is given to children.

“Teachers are shifting their teaching approaches to become more active, continuous, competency-based, and engaging for students.”

Filmawit lives with her grandmother, Belaynesh Mengiste, who fortunately understands the value of education. Belaynesh was just in 4th grade, when she had to leave school to fight in the terrible civil war against the former Derg Regime, putting an end to her childhood education. Thus, she does not want the same thing to happen for her granddaughter. While most parents require their children to help out with livelihood chores (farming, caring for livestock, collecting water), Belaynesh instead decided to enroll Filmawit in extra language classes. Balaynesh’s goal is for Filmawit to score high grades on her final primary exam so that when she reaches 8th grade, she could be accepted in the elite Kalamino Secondary School in Mekele where the smartest children in Tigray go to.

Girls Education-Tigray
Filmawit and her grandmother / caretaker Belaynesh Mengiste ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Amanda Westfall

Committed community leaders bring quality education to girls

It takes not only teachers, but an entire community to bring quality education to girls like Filmawit.

With AfL, parents and caretakers – like  Filmawit’s Grandmother, Belaynesh Mengstie – have begun to play a more active role in the learning process of their children. Before AfL, most parents hardly knew what was happening at school. Since the implementation of AfL, many schools have now started a tri-partite agreement among the student, teacher, and caretaker, where they agree on goals for the year – per subject – and review where they stand on a monthly basis.

Filmawit is lucky to have such an inspiring 4th Grade homeroom teacher. Etenesh Mulugeta is the focal point for AfL at the school. The UNICEF AfL training is normally provided to each school’s director and one or two teachers, and Etenesh was one of the beneficiaries of the training. “I am so happy to have been part of this important training and will train others. It makes life so much easier!” said Etenesh. She trained all teachers in the school, along with other teachers in the region (a total of 135 teachers). She sees vast improvements in learning because of the new techniques, mainly regarding reading and writing, where she measures levels of all of her 57 students on a monthly basis. This approach encouraged her to develop new innovative ways to fill the learning gaps, for example, by establishing peer groups in children’s neighbourhoods so they can support each other after school.

Mesele Gebre Ezgiabher, the school director, was also trained by UNICEF in AfL. Before AfL, the standard practice of teachers was to automatically give a pass grade for everyone even if they cannot read or write. Now Mesele is taking exams very seriously. “First, we must ensure that teachers base teaching on minimum learning competencies (MLCs) and with the AfL methodology. Second, promotion must be based on achievement that is linked to MLCs and students should not just automatically pass to the next grade.”

In Filmawit’s woreda where 57 primary schools are present, Tadele Berhe Woldu serves as the woreda coordinator for curriculum development. He explained that before AfL, when the schools reported on end-of-year exams, most schools gave students passing marks of 100 per cent. However, when the woreda administered the exams, the average was actually 56.8 per cent who passed for Grades 1-4. This happened because the schools used to be rewarded if all students passed, which resulted in teachers preparing simple exams to ensure that all the children passed. Now, the woreda sends experts to check the exams before they are administered, to ensure they reflect the MLCs. “We knew the schools were cheating when all of them reported a 100 per cent passing rate. This is not good for our nation … In the end the children will not have the skills to get jobs. But now, this problem is totally changing,” said Tadele.

The Government has set a goal to create a new learning generation for the country. But real learning can only be achieved if a system of teachers, school administrators, and government invest in strategies to improve the quality of teaching; if teachers are qualified, given appropriate learning materials, and taught clear methodologies to educate students. And teachers can only provide quality support if they have a system assisting them at the collegiate, woreda, regional and national levels.

AfL fits within existing educational structures, and has the utmost involvement by parents and caretakers, making it more sustainable and long-lasting. It was introduced in Ethiopia in mid-2013 and has since expanded to eight regions (includes the six regions of Amhara, Harari, Oromia, Somali, Tigray, and Benishangul-Gumuz, as well as the city-states of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa), with the plan to incorporate it in all eleven regions of the country.

With AfL an entire system is working together to help Filmawit realize her dreams to become an engineer so she can build a better future for her country, and even more so, to become a great leader in Africa.

In Ethiopia, passionate teachers prepare children for school

By Kosumo Shiraishi

BURKA RAMIS, OROMIA, 21 August 2017- In Burka Ramis, a remote rural village of West Hararge, Oromia region, Ethiopia, 50 young boys and girls sing cheerfully in their classroom. It is summer, a school break time for the rest of the pupils, but for these children, it is a regular class session.

Beriso Genemo, their teacher, prepares detailed weekly and monthly lesson plans. He decided to join teachers in his school who participate in summer teaching of beginners, because he understands the importance of school readiness, especially for children from rural and disadvantaged communities.

This summer initiative is known as the Accelerated-School-Readiness (ASR) programme. ASR is an innovative early learning model that lasts eight weeks and targets six-year-olds from poor families. It provides quality education by trained teachers such as Beriso to help children, who previously had no access to preschool or other early learning models, so that they make smooth transition from home to school.

Teachers prepare children for school
Beriso Genemo provides outdoor play activities for children from disadvantaged families as a part of the ASR programme in West Hararge, Oromia Region, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Kosumo

“The programme helps children to learn better and reach to their full potential,” says Beriso “I could already see their progress.”

Other ASR teachers, Huseein Ahmed from Nano Bereda School and Adana Geri from Borte School also acknowledge the importance of the programme. They explained that attending the ASR class is helpful because children can learn how to take lessons, interact with teacher and classmates and go to school by themselves.

Supporting children who don’t have the opportunity for early learning

Research shows that investing in quality early learning programmes is one of the most effective ways to improve a child’s success in a school.[1] In Ethiopia, children under five comprise the largest age bracket in the population. There are approximately 10 million children aged 0-3 years, and 7.7 million children aged 4-6 years. Investing in Early Child Development (ECD) interventions, like early learning, is critical for the long-term prosperity of the country.

There are other forms of school readiness programmes in Ethiopia, the largest being the government’s “O” pre-school classes. However, ASR is one that fills a crucial gap because it operates in communities where formal preschool classes are not possible, such as in rural areas where it is difficult and costly to provide quality “O” classes.

UNICEF through the Swiss National Committee, with generous support from Roche, is currently supporting Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education to develop and implement the ASR programme in four regions (Oromia, Amhara, SNNP and Beningal-Gumuz).

Every ASR teacher participates in a comprehensive training and is provided with resource materials (books), as well as individual exercise booklets (workbooks) to distribute to each child.

The programme has generated commitment from all levels of Government, teachers communities and children as well. Abduselam, a community member from Burka Ramis says, “We appreciate this programme that prepares our children for proper education. Our community is providing support by renovating class rooms and encouraging families to send their six-year-old children to school.”

Beriso became a teacher eight years ago because he believes in empowering children and developing human resources within the country. “My dream is to see these disadvantaged children attending the ASR programme to become good citizens in our society.”

[1] Multiple research studies have evidenced the importance of early learning. See UNICEF’s research website for more details: https://www.unicef-irc.org/knowledge-pages/Early-Childhood/

In Ethiopia, Girls Bravely Speak Up Against Sexually Abusive Teacher, as “Me Too” campaign kicks off worldwide

By Amanda Westfall

ADDIS ABABA, 9 OCTOBER 2017: In October 2017, UNICEF Ambassador Alyssa Milano sparked the viral campaign, “me too,” where she asked those who had been victims of sexual abuse to say #metoo via social media. With the goal to show the scale of the issue, the campaign shocked the world as millions of women, girls, men and boys participated.

In Ethiopia, Konjit,[1] a 14-year-old eighth-grader who attends a junior-secondary school in Addis Ababa,[2] is one of these brave girls who spoke out on sexual assault. Last year, one of her closest friends confided in Konjit and told her that their teacher had been sexually abusing her. Konjit, being a member of the school gender club knew what the teacher was doing was illegal. At her weekly club meetings, she was taught about the code-of-conduct which clearly states that those acts were punishable by school law. After discussing with her friend, Konjit decided to bring the case to the gender club to discuss what steps they needed to take to punish the teacher and stop the abuse from continuing.

The word began to spread to other classmates. More girls began speaking out to say, “me too.” They were first quiet for fear and shame, but once one girl bravely spoke out they too found the courage to tell their story.

As one can imagine, this was not the safest of times for the girls for fear that the teacher would find out and do more harm. “It was scary for us because if he saw us together he may know what we were up to. We were all so afraid of the teacher,” said Konjit.

However, this did not stop them. Konjit and other gender club members were determined to help their friends. In the end they found out that at least 9 girls were sexually abused by the same teacher, some at more severe levels than others. With support from the school’s Vice Director, Ms Netsanet Abebe, the gender club brought written statements from the victims as evidence to the school’s Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Code of Conduct Committee who referenced the chapter that leads to severe types of misconduct. The committee unanimously made the decision to dismiss the teacher. The school also referred the case to the justice department for legal action where the teacher was then convicted in court and sent to jail for his actions.

Gender Clubs in schools protect girls from violence
Ms Netsanet, Vice Director, is also the acting focal point for the gender club. The efforts made to convict and fire a teacher, who was sexually abusing girls, could not have been possible without the support of her. She gives proper guidance to Konjit and her gender club-mates about school-related gender-based violence. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Demissew Bizuwerk

If the incidents happened only a few years earlier, the teacher would have gotten away with his actions. However, two years ago UNICEF began supporting the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct, build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse, strengthen the capacity of gender clubs to put reporting channels in place, as well as incorporate men and boys into the clubs so that they can also play a central role in combatting gender-based violence.

Gender Clubs in schools protect girls from violence
UNICEF supports the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct and build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse in schools while also strengthening the capacity of gender clubs. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Demissew Bizuwerk


Today, Konjit and her friends feel a strong sense of empowerment. Each of them took huge risks to tell their stories, but because they understood their legal rights they knew it was well worth it. The girls now know what to do to stop this from happening to other classmates. As one of the victims strongly puts it, “Now that the teacher is out, no one else would dare to do that to us. We feel stronger and more confident to take action!”

In a country like Ethiopia, where the prevalence of school-related sexual violence goes as high as 46 per cent[3] it takes courageous girls to stand up and say, “Me too” and “enough is enough!”

 

 

 

[1] The name has been changed due to confidentiality issues.

[2] Ethiopian primary school stretches for 8 years, from grade 1 – 8. Grades 7 and 8 could also be known as ‘junior secondary school’. The official age of school entry is 7 years. 

[3] Save the Children Denmark, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Women’s Affairs. (2008)