Shattering Glass and Fighting For Education
When 16-year-old Saatah of Liberia considered making an attempt at shattering the glass ceiling, she quickly found that what she thought was glass may actually be made of steel.
Throwing her hat in the ring for class president meant breaking barriers so cemented in her culture, they were nearly impossible to move.
“I realized that we are just preaching gender equality, but it’s barely working in the hearts and minds of young people of my school,” she said. “Many boys and girls, including male teachers, came up telling me to back off because according to them, I wouldn’t make it and I’d be wasting my time.”
Saatah lives in Liberia where, according to UNICEF, only 28 percent of girls attend primary school. The percentage of boys attending primary school (32 percent) isn’t much better – but perceptions often stand in the way of a girl achieving her dreams.
“Girls’ rights are important to me because I am a girl,” she said. “It’s a fact that we girls deserve the best of life and if a girl and a boy have equal opportunities in life the rate of poverty will definitely come down. No wonder there’s a saying [that] ‘if you educate a man, you educate a person, but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.’”
To fight for equal access to a quality education, Saatah will join 12 other Plan International Youth Delegates on June 16, the Day of the African Child, in a staged takeover of the African Union. The takeover will kick off a 10-day Plan-supported campaign to advocate for an investment in education across the world. “10 Days to Invest in a Girl’s Education” will come to a close June 26 when governments will be asked to pledge their commitment toward increasing investment in education.
The 10 days will highlight a discrepancy in education for girls and boys in nations like Saatah’s.
“Luckily for me, I’ve never been denied access to education – it’s only access to quality education that I haven’t got. I know of a friend of mine who was bitterly denied access to education because of religious reasons. At the time when we were just about to write our ninth grade public exams, her parents told her that she would be getting married and so there was no need for her to even study for the exams.”
With the support of donors and sponsors, Plan International’s programs have been working to break gender barriers, lobby for greater access to education, and create societies where a quality education for both girls and boys is the norm.
Last year in Liberia, Plan helped train 456 government teachers and build or reconstruct 20 primary schools potentially benefiting 3,000 children – half of whom will be girls.
As for Saatah, she won her election and proved that, given the chance, girls can achieve great things.
“They said that no female had tried what I wanted to do and all those who even thought of it didn’t make it so I should go back and be like any other girl who has attended that school before,” she said. “The heat was on, but I pushed through because I knew they were nothing but dream killers. Today, I am a success and an inspiration to many young girls in my community. I just knew that I had to make the difference.”