In its 15 years of existence, RET International has time and again observed that emergencies and conflicts affect young women differently than young men. The fragile environments within the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya are no exception.
Thanks to the generous support of the U.S. State Department, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, RET was able to launch a programme of non-formal education to bridge the gaps that existing other programmes could not cover, heavily targeting the vulnerable Somali youth, and especially young women in Dadaab.
Since the very beginning of its activities in the camps, RET has noted lower female participation. Compared to young men, fewer young women complete primary education. Those that do, tend to score lower marks than their male peers, thus reducing their opportunities for joining the few available secondary schools. In 2013, for example, the percentage of girls who qualified to join the formal secondary schools was 6% as compared to 16% for young men.
When young women lack such opportunities, they are usually married off within a year, because it is thought that by being idle they are likely to find themselves engaged in extra-marital relationships. When they get married, their responsibilities and chores are too overwhelming to allow them to ever embark on Accelerated Learning Programmes (ALP) such as the one RET proposes.
In Dadaab, RET found it necessary to engage in affirmative action to bring more young women to its programme. Young women are therefore given preference to enter the ALP, but also they are offered more opportunities for remedial classes, which allow them to make up some of the lost ground and complete their primary education.
RET also understands that once they have accessed secondary education women have different needs than their male counterparts. Therefore, within each school a selected female teacher holds biweekly sessions with female learners to discuss female-specific issues. Through these meetings RET also provides young women with sanitary wear. The construction of gender-friendly latrines completes this care. RET also proposes remedial classes over the weekends and holidays for those who may miss lessons due to their chores and responsibilities.
Ensuring access to quality education is essential, however, in contexts such as large refugee camps, the challenges women face are multiple. One of the issues, which should be urgently addressed, is sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
In Dadaab, at least 10 cases of rape are reported daily. In the month of March alone, 603 SGBV related cases were registered! Even so, it is believed that a majority of SGBV cases never come to be known.
In the context of Somali refugees, issues related to sex are taboo and are hardly ever discussed in the open. In addition, the voices of women are generally not heard. An increase of awareness of both risks and available services is needed and the current responses and reporting rates clearly have to be improved.
Vibrant youth groups trained by RET have therefore taken up this challenge to drive the SGBV agenda forward by identifying community leaders to speak about SGBV in what RET calls Youth Adult Partnerships. Also, they are tackling the issue through the use of drama and theatre as means of positive social change. Young people are, through such activities, becoming key actors in their communities.
In Dadaab all young people dream of moving out and away from the crisis, but for half of them the road is simply much harder. Recognising this fundamental fact is essential to any durable humanitarian programme.