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Feature: Somali woman defies cultural hurdles to pursue higher education

MOGADISHU, (Xinhua) — The education journey for Najma Abdullahi Qarey, a 24-year-old Somali woman, is intriguing and inspiring at the same time.

Abdullahi got married at a younger age by her parents who live in a community that believes that the only way to safeguard the dignity of their daughters is to marry them off while young.

However, Abdullahi refused to allow marriage to become an obstacle to her passion for education and overcame many hurdles that have denied education to the majority of her peers.

“My childhood dream was to pursue education to the highest level possible despite my community’s disregard for girl-child education. My parents were overprotective and did not want me to stay unmarried beyond my puberty stage,” she told Xinhua during a recent interview in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.

“And since I didn’t want to be rude to my parents, I accepted to marry my childhood lover, who turned out to be extremely supportive of my education journey,” Abdullahi said.

Zakaria Abdullahi, Abdullahi’s husband who works in the Ministry of Education in Somalia’s Galmudug state, refused to succumb to mounting pressure from male friends who ridiculed him for looking after the children when his wife was pursuing a degree in public administration.

Zakaria said that he felt that it was in the interest of his family to support and sacrifice for his wife’s education since she will be a role model to their children.

“I am proud of my wife’s resilience,” Zakaria said, adding that mothers are the ones who spend more time with children and educating them will have a positive impact on their offspring.

In February this year, Abdullahi was among 44 students who finished their undergraduate degrees in the Horn of Africa University, one of the best institutions of higher learning in Somalia registered with the Ministry of Higher Education, and was awarded with various honors during the graduation ceremony.

According to the Somalia Integrated Household Budget Survey (SIHBS-2022), which is the first such credible national survey since 1985, nearly two-thirds of the country’s population has no formal education.

Only 4.6 percent of the population report to have completed secondary education and 4 percent attained higher education. Young citizens are the most educated and over half of this demographic or 53.7 percent is literate.

For people in the 20-24 and 25-29 age groups, higher education attainment rates are at 14.2 percent and 12.2 percent respectively, according to the survey.

Among nomads, the overwhelming majority, or 92.5 percent, reported no formal education, while two-thirds, or 68.6 percent of rural respondents have no formal education. Only 3 percent of rural residents have completed secondary schooling, and 1.7 percent have acquired higher education.

The survey states that the literacy rate is higher among males than females, at 63.6 percent and 45.3 percent respectively with a substantial difference in literacy rates between age groups, with younger age categories showing the highest literacy rates and the oldest members having the lowest literacy rates.

Abdullahi said that juggling between education and family responsibilities has not been a walk in the park, but she credited her supportive husband for enabling her to realize her academic dreams.

The mother of three children said she intends to pursue a post-graduate degree in public administration and become a role model for young girls who are keen to attain high levels of formal education.

Local leaders like Galmudug Senator Siciid Siyad Shirwac have encouraged communities to prioritize educating girls in a bid to realize socio-economic transformation at the grassroots. 

Source: Xinhua

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