Building peace in the minds of men and women

Meet Marshet: A young Ethiopian girl leading big changes in her community

04 November 2019

Marshet Zelalem grew up in a rural village in Oromia, Ethiopia. While in primary school, she was afraid to raise her hand and ask questions in the classroom.

A once reserved girl, she is now president of the Children’s Parliament and a focal person for the Women’s and Children’s Bureau of Tabor town, advocating for the rights of girls and women.

Marshet, aged 18, engages her audience confidently, moving from side to side, as she explains the need to support young girls in her community during an event in Hawassa. She looks like she was born with a skill for public speaking, but this was not always the case.

‘She has not always been like that. She became more confident following the training’, says Yohannis Fentter, Marshet’s physical education teacher.

Marshet took part in a life skills training for girls at her school organized as part of a UNESCO project in Ethiopia. The training focused on personal development and included leadership skills, good studying habits, problem-solving skills, communication skills, as well as negotiation and creativity skills. ‘I have developed the skills to speak up, debate with and convince others’, she says.

After the training, Marshet competed with peers from other schools in Hawassa for the position of president of the Children’s Parliament, and succeeded. The Children’s Parliament creates opportunities for children to have their own voice and works towards advocating for the rights of girls and boys.

In her role as president of the Children’s Parliament, Marshet aims to raise the awareness of her community on the rights of women and girls. She currently manages eight people, and has provided life skills trainings to 80 children (of which 60% are girls), aged 10 to 17, who are members of the Parliament.

Marshet now believes in herself and that she can achieve as much as the boys in her class. ‘I used to think that “I could not” just because I was a girl,’ she says. ‘Even the exercise books discriminate against women in the way they are represented, for example as victims of sexually transmitted diseases. They are generally portrayed as unsuccessful in life.’

Marshet adds that teachers in her school also used to perpetuate bias between genders: ‘[teachers] thought boys are better students than girls, and they made us feel inferior.’ She noticed that teachers’ attitudes towards girls started to change following a gender-responsive pedagogy training provided to teachers also as part of the project. The training equips teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to apply a gender-responsive lens in their teaching and learning practices and within the school environment. 

Adare primary school is one of the participating schools of the project. The rate of students who passed the 8th grade (primary level) national examination increased from 70% in the 2016/17 academic year to 85 % in 2017/18. Girls’ academic performance has improved: 83% of girls passed the national examination in 2017/18. More girls are also involved in school clubs, and dropout rates have decreased.

Meanwhile, Marshet, who is now a 9th grade (secondary level) student at Tabor High School in Hawassa, aspires to foster a good governance in her community, by ensuring that girls are aware of their rights and that these are fulfilled.

The project in Ethiopia aims to enhance the quality and relevance of education for adolescent girls, and ensure that all girls have access to and transition through the full education cycle successfully. It is implemented by the UNESCO Liaison Office in Ethiopia, under the UNESCO-HNA Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education. As part of the project, the UNESCO Institute for Capacity Building in Africa provides technical backstopping in institutional capacity-building for gender mainstreaming in education, gender-responsive pedagogy and teacher training.

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