SANAA - A two-year-old government scheme offering financial incentives to parents in the rural areas of two of the country’s poorest governorates to send their daughters to school or to prevent them from dropping out is paying off as girls' enrollment rates have increased by around 9 percent in the targeted schools, according to education officials.
As part of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) scheme, education departments in the southern governorate of Lahj and the western governorate of Hodeida are giving girls an annual stipend of YR 8,000 (US$35) in two installments, according to deputy education minister Lutfiya Hamza.
"To get this money, the girl must attend at least 80 percent of classes each semester,” Hamza told IRIN.
The scheme is part of the education ministry's Basic Education Development Project (BEDP), supported by the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development and the Netherlands government.
The objective of BEDP is to assist Yemen in expanding the provision of quality basic education for all with particular attention on gender equity.
According to a 2007 UN Development Programme report, 43 percent of girls and 67 percent of boys were enrolled in primary, secondary and tertiary education in the country. In addition, only 35 percent of girls were literate, compared with 73 percent of boys.
The Yemeni government’s education strategy aims to have 90 percent of all girls in school by the end of this year and 95 percent by 2015. It also aims to reduce the gap of boys’ and girls’ enrollment to 11 percent.
The incentive scheme seeks to reduce poverty and population growth rates by ensuring girls are educated.
“In Yemen, poverty is associated with the rapid population growth,” Ahmad al-Arashi, head of BEDP, said. “When girls attain higher levels of education, they will be aware of family planning and birth spacing, which are the key to alleviating poverty.”
He said many social problems, including early marriage and child malnourishment, are symptomatic of the high female illiteracy rate in Yemen.
“By having access to education and completing their education, girls will refuse to marry at an early age,” he said. “Also, their parents will not force their daughters to marry at a younger age when they see them going to school with the support from CCT.”
In Lahj, the distribution of a CCT installment recently ended on 24 May.
“Up to 28,000 girls in grades four to nine in 216 schools in the governorate received incentives from the scheme this year [2009-2010 academic year],” Ali Ahmad al-Salami, head of Lahj Provincial Education Office, said.
In Hodeida, the scheme is benefitting some 6,700 girls, according to deputy education minister Hamza.
"Waste of money"
However, convincing parents of the benefits of sending their daughters to school is an uphill struggle. Many families, particularly in rural areas, say it is a "waste of money", Hamza said. "After grade five or six, girls stay home to cook and fetch water and firewood until they get married.”
Because jobs are limited for women in Yemen, poor families often feel it is better to educate their sons as they will have more opportunities, she said.
Thousands of rural families in Lahj cannot afford to pay for their children’s education.
“Poverty is the main obstacle hindering education in general and girls’ education in particular,” Salah Salim, a local councilor in the governorate, said. "In many rural areas, a seven-member family lives on less than YR1,000 [US$4.5] a day, and therefore resorts to keeping their daughters out of school.”
Abdullah al-Subaihi, a day labourer from Tor al-Baha district in Lahj Governorate, said he only sends his two sons to school. "None of my three teenage daughters go to school because we don't have enough money," he said.
Andrew Moore, Yemen Country Director of NGO Save the Children (SC), said further awareness raising of the benefits of educating girls was necessary in rural communities.
"We use specific examples such as the link between malnutrition and education: the higher educated the mothers in households are generally, the less malnourished children are," Moore said.