International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 98

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1 International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 98 Ethiopia: From Bottom to Top in Higher Education - Gender Role Problems by Yelfign Worku Biographical Note Yelfign Worku, Head of Gender and Education Department, Ministry of Education, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. Abstract Modern Education in Ethiopia is a very recent phenomenon which started at about Girls education, as compared to that of boys, has been lagging behind. It is true that girls enrolment by itself has increased, but the gap is nevertheless widening. This is due to the various social, economic and cultural factors that hinder the participation and performance of girls. This has an impact on the participation and performance of women later in life, in their access to decision making positions and their participation in the country s development. The problems that women and girls encounter at different levels in Ethiopia s society shall be presented in this article. Gender Role Problems There is a stereotype role concerning gender starting from birth. If the baby is a girl, people applaud three times, if it is a boy, they do so seven times. A mother who gives birth to a baby boy is congratulated, whereas if the mother gives birth to a baby girl her husband does not welcome her. Right from the beginning of her life, a girl is told to stay at home and to help mother or to watch the boys play. If she is allowed to play, she is expected to play soft games with girls and to keep neat and tidy even when playing. Instead of going to school, she is expected to get married at an early age and to take over the household chores. Women in rural areas do both household chores and farm work, men, however, do not participate in household and kitchen activities. In church, women and men sit in separate rows. In school, there is a gender bias both in the classroom and outside. In the classroom girls are not seen or heard. They are taught to be shy and quiet. They are outsmarted by boys and are not assertive enough to bring up their

2 Volume 21 Number 1/ problems. The fear of making mistakes in the classroom and being laughed at by boys makes them not answer or ask questions. If the teaching methodology is only talk and chalk, girls are more at a disadvantage than boys. Textbooks do not portray girls in a proper manner. The activities girls perform, the pictures of men s and women s biographies, the languages used in textbooks - all this is favouring the male sex and pushes women to the usual stereotype activities. Laws and the constitution have been encouraging the subordinate role of women, yet, despite all these hurdles, women still participate in the economic and social spheres. Women and Decision Making Right now, there are 40 women in parliament. There are many women elected at district and zone levels. At the local level, among the elected female members, 2/3 are expected to be in decision-making positions. Women participate in different organisations and associations, holding responsible positions. They co-ordinate grassroot activities that promote women. Nevertheless, the positions held by women as compared to that of men are less, especially in economically strong fields. In banks and insurances, there are very few women in responsible positions. At the moment, women holding ministerial positions are insignificant, and women as heads of departments are mainly concentrated around gender issues. Neither male nor female colleagues support a woman in such a position; they are rather expected to do twice the work expected of a man. They become overburdened with work, along with family responsibilities and social commitments they have to fulfil. Many women are working in the informal sector, only a few are employed in the formal sector. The formal sector requires educational qualification and the employment is based on relevant education, experience and qualification. Criteria, many women cannot fulfil. Women and Education The education of women is of paramount importance insofar as it helps in developing a country. Women have to participate in social,

3 International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 100 economic and political activities and thus education helps women with family planning, health care and nutrition, and the better they are educated the more they are empowered and assertive. Better and more education leads them to decision-making positions and to higher incomes. Nonetheless, girls education lags behind that of boys in primary and secondary education. The case is even worse in the tertiary education sector. A wide gender gap becomes apparent at all levels of education. At the initial stage, not as many girls attend school as boys. Long distances from their home to school, parents not being aware of the advantages of educated girls, household chores, early marriage, abduction are some of the reasons why it is difficult for girls to enter school. Among those who enter school many drop out or have to repeat classes, again for various reasons, such as unwanted pregnancy, rough school atmosphere, marriage, or workload. Higher Education There are few girls who pass school and join higher institutions. There is a lot of competition among students for the limited admissions to higher institutions, and there are few girls who have high grades. Thus, the desire of girls to join hard courses and the required GPA (General Point Average) for these courses do not match and many of them go to the soft courses, mainly to the social sciences. Higher institutions are also a new environment, and for some students it becomes difficult to adjust. The new environment adds to academic difficulties, and eventually girls drop out. Harassment and violence is also not uncommon in higher institutions, and girls do not feel safe to study in such a hostile environment. Thus, girls start to study at the university with less preparation and with a lot of pressure. This makes it difficult for them to pursue their studies successfully. The two following figures (overleaf) drastically show this gender inequality:

4 Volume 21 Number 1/ Figure 1: Undergraduate Degree Source: Both Sex Female Male Years Figure 2: Graduates by Sex, Tertiary Education. Source: Total Female Male Years

5 International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 102 Women and Scientific Careers When children start school there is not much difference in the achievement of boys and girls and in some cases girls do better than boys. At a later age, there is a tendency that girls favour the so-called soft subjects such as languages, law, arts and not the hard subjects such as mathematics and sciences. However, especially these subjects lead students to become engineers, medical doctors, and scientists, professions that help to modernise Ethiopia and to improve Ethiopia s technological standard. But girls find it difficult to get into such fields because of the high competition to enter these fields. There is also a lack of proper orientation towards these subjects and graduates with a social science degree more easily find a suitable job. To make a career in the sciences, female students need prior orientation and preparedness. Interest should have developed early in primary schools. However, instead of fostering them, girls are marginalised according to their stereotype role. In school, science subjects need laboratory work and practical activities, but if equipment is short, it is the girls who usually stand aside, and this in turn does not encourage them to be interested in the subject. Likewise, only few girls join the technical stream where they have to manipulate and operate tools. The attitude that girls develop toward technical and science subjects influences their career choice. Girls tend toward secretarial and arts areas more than to the hard technical and mechanical ones. Teachers play an important role in the learning process. If they push girls towards the soft subjects, or if they do not encourage them to work hard in the science subjects, it is likely that girls will not opt for such subjects later on. Thus girls are concentrated in the teaching profession, in languages, in sociology, library science and the like. A scientific career becomes remote. What Is Being Done at the Moment and What Is Next? In the education system we have a common curriculum and no separated subjects for girls and boys. Home science and agriculture science are integrated in biology and general science subjects. Thus girls are not marginalised into the stereotypes subjects. The curriculum

6 Volume 21 Number 1/ Figure 3: Postgraduate Degree Source: Years Both Sex Female Male is geared toward problem solving approaches and girls can benefit from that. Once they start with practical applications, they will like the subject. Teachers provide tutorial support for girls who are weak in such subjects. The girls are forced to catch up with other students in the subjects in which they are weak. As seen from the study of the National Baseline Assessment in grade four - in the case of environmental science test - girls performed better in some subjects than boys. Thus, if the curriculum is common for girls and boys, one can say that the bias toward girls considering science subjects is minimised and girls can perform better. Some factors that stand out in facilitating girls achievement in the fourth grade include lower pupil-textbook-ratio, library facilities and the presence of female teachers. Thus, quality of education with trained teachers, enough textbooks, and pedagogic helps in the promotion of science teaching. Girls who join university after passing school s final examinations have witnessed that teachers in secondary schools have made them like or dislike a certain subject. As to the girls who scored A s and B s in science subjects, they gave due credit to the teachers who supported and encouraged them and who were also their role models.

7 International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 104 For this reason, teachers are provided with gender awareness packages with particular attention to classroom learning and the teaching process. Textbook writers and curriculum developers balance gender in the written materials of different subjects. Textbooks are also evaluated in terms of gender. Assertiveness training is provided to female students who join higher institutions. Outstanding female students show their experience with study skills to first-year students in order to help getting a good start at university. Colleges of science and technology admit girls who were close to failing the examinations to their faculties, and tutorials are provided in some colleges for them. Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go. There are only negligible numbers of female lecturers, and thus there is a lack of role models. Universities have to create a mechanism of getting female lecturers into the faculties. In the years to come, new universities will be founded and these colleges will accommodate many students. Thus, girls will have a better chance to join these universities. Furthermore, universities have started encouraging female graduates to become lecturers so that they will become role models for girls. Girls committees are set up to discuss the problems of girls and this has a positive impact in identifying problems that girls have to face.

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