Friday, August 14, 2009

If you educate a girl, Part III

Another role model for African women scientists and engineers is Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann, the Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences at the University of Ghana. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania, she works tirelessly both in her field professionally and to engage students in- and out-side the classroom.

While Ghana's government has stated its commitment to achieving equal education of boys and girls by the year 2015, all too often these types of lofty goals remain unfulfilled. Dr. Kaufmann is not only a role model, she is also an outspoken advocate for the education of girls. This is evident in an address she gave at the speech and prize-giving day at Akuse Methodist Senior High Technical School in March 2008.

After noting that "girl-children" (the UN defines a girl-child as a female child between 0 and 18) are almost invisible, she estimates that they form approximately 75% of the female population and approximately 38% of Ghana's total population, meaning there are almost 9 million girl children in the country. She further notes that the unequal treatment of females commences at birth when one inquires about the gender of the child "'What did she have, boy or girl?' and the shocking response" if it is a boy, " 'owoo nipa,' meaning 'she had a human being,' the implication being that the alternative is a non-human."

Girls are expected to marry, and "Before the 'marriage destiny' is accomplished, the girl-child is expected to keep herself busy in the kitchen, supposedly learning the skills necessary to prepare her for her role as wife and mother, while in fact bearing a significantly higher share of the domestic work than her male siblings." (bolding mine). Dr. Kaufmann claims that "On average girls marry at around age 15, while boys marry from 18 years. In some communities it is not surprising to find girls married at age 13."

However, she remains optimistic about the future, quoting Nelson Mandela ("education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world") and concluding that the education of the girl-child becomes even more critical. "There is a great deal of evidence pointing to the fact that economies grow faster, that the poor move out of poverty more quickly and that the general well-being of all members of the community is enhanced when gender equity is promoted."

Dr. Kaufmann is quite clear that she is not trying to undermine the critically important roles of wife and mother. "The roles of mother and wife are probably the most important that a great majority of females will assume. An educated mother is unlikely to perpetuate the marginalization of the girl-child. High self-esteem in a mother makes it natural for her to see the potential in her female child and she becomes a role model for that child." In a moving anecdote, she tells how she remembers "clearly the day one of my daughters, a girl-child, approached me to ask if it was true that women could not be weather forecasters. She felt she could be a good weather woman in future, but she had never seen one and the house help had told her that weather forecasting was a man's job."

Her concluding advice to the graduating girls at Akuse was that they should have a purpose and dream and go after their dreams. "Sure you will have to make sacrifices, but do not sacrifice your basic rights away by always considering yourselves last. You deserve to succeed."

To others she advises ". . .we must teach girl-children to be self-confident. They need to be made to recognize and understand their responsibility as equal partners and contributors to the community's development agenda. We should encourage and empower them to enter professions and areas of study which can nurture and develop their leadership abilities and give them opportunities to participate in high-level decision-making. This will serve to enable them to contribute towards development and at the same time, give them the chance to be future role models for girl-children who need education and direction."

An organization based in the U.S., CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education) is very active in promoting Dr. Kaufmann's vision in sub-Saharan Africa. Africans need to initiate, support, and insist upon similar programs throughout the continent.


AfricaLiving said...

Thanks Papa for sharing this. It is really nice to read more about Dr. Kaufmann's advocacy work.

Masi said...

Great blog posting! Very inspiring.

Esi W. Cleland said...

Thanks for this post. It's great to read about women in positions of authority encouraging other women to reach their own highs. I just found your blog. Will be back.

Emmanuel Kwesi Arthur said...

In fact, I know Dr. Kaufmann and she really inspires most girls to have interest in science and mathematics education in Ghana. I'm expecting much work from her. I know that it's about time girls rejuvenate their scientific minds to share their quota in the development of Africa and the world as a whole.

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