Making a Difference: Kenyan Advocate Advances Education for Girls

11 March 2009

Educating girls and women in Kenya's pastoralist communities can be a big challenge. Many girls end up being married in their early teens and are expected to stay at home and work for the family. But a pastoral human rights activist is striving to change that mentality by setting up learning centers for girls and women in the Tana River area of north coastal Kenya.
Rural Kenyan human rights activist Ibrahim Ahmed Sane
Rural Kenyan human rights activist Ibrahim Ahmed Sane
In pastoralist communities across north coastal Kenya, girls and women are expected to do the domestic chores.

But in Gafuru village, they are doing something previously unheard of: attending school.

Human rights activist Ibrahim Ahmed Sane is the founder of Gafuru Learning Center. He explains why most people in his pastoral community think this is unusual.

"What they say is the girl was created just to satisfy the man and not rather to enjoy her life," Sane said. "They say the girl is there to help the mother in the house, and then, at the age of 12 or 13 years, the girl is just to be married off so that she could set up her own family."

As a young boy in Gafuru Primary School, Sane noticed that girl students were virtually non-existent.

Later, Sane says he learned in a class on Islamic studies, that there was nothing in the Qu'ran stopping girls from being educated.

Sane instructs his learning center class
Sane instructs his learning center class
He then returned to Gafuru and asked some tough questions:

"Why? If Islam says this, then why are our girls not taken to school? I learned that it is because of tradition, it is because of culture," he asked.

Sane says he persuaded the elders and religious leaders of Gafuru by quoting the Qu'ran on the importance of educating girls.

And so in 2006, Sane, his sister and a group of youth began teaching lessons to a few girls.

"This center [in Gafuru] has given birth to nine other centers. Now we have over 1,000 girls, in total, all over these centres," he said.

Sixteen-year-old Muslim Bare says she is happy to be in school. "We have known things that we never used to know or never heard before," Bare said.

Sane says he faced a lot of opposition throughout the years for this work.

Villagers scoffed at him, accusing him of being used by foreigners to destroy their culture.

"I got the courage from the interior part of me. I said, Ibrahim, never fail because of the angry faces here," he said.

But now, Sane says communities that once rejected education for girls and women are embracing it.