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ARISE 100 Women: Hon. Aicha Bah Diallo

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Words Kiran Yoliswa

As the former Minister of Education and the current chairperson of the Forum for Women Educationalists (FAWE), Hon Aicha Bah Diallo has dedicated her life to education, and specifically to the education of women – who she believes are the real leaders in Africa. She is also the advisor to the director-general of UNESCO.

What drives you?

For me, human rights are very important to respect. But if you do not have access to education, which is a right, you will never be able to know all your rights. Secondly, when you have access to education then you will be able to develop your potential… That is why I am fighting for education for all – through life, from womb to tomb – because we have to keep on learning every single day. You learn everywhere, you can learn from everybody, and you can give also. You learn so many things through listening to children and older people.

How do you see the future of education, and education for women, evolving over the next 10 years in Africa?

The governments have to accept education as a priority, and give to the education sector the budget that is needed for it to develop. Because if you do not have funds, how can you mobilise funds? Second, we have to ensure that there is no corruption at all in the education sector. When the funds are there they have to go to where they are supposed to go. So zero tolerance to corruption.

Third… when you are developing the policies, developing these strategies to implement that policy, you have to build in the gender perspective. If it is not built in and if it is an ad hoc project, it will never work. Another thing is women who have high profiles need to participate in helping others to access quality education. We have to give back what we have received. It has to be at every level.

Why do you think women's education in particular is important to the future of the continent as a whole?

Who is doing the work in Africa, isn't it women in fact? Look at the rural areas. You have almost 80 per cent of the whole nation living in rural areas. If you really want to develop the culture in any country, you'd have to go through women – you have to train them to use the new tools. It is women who are really the first educators of children. Until the age of seven, most of the time in Africa, men are not involved in children's education. So education of women is key. And they are tolerant, women are not corrupt most of the time, women are not the ones who are provoking wars. Women most of the time are peaceful people; they are interested in the development of their families.

What are the main misconceptions you have found about women in your industry?

In the industry most of the time, the chiefs do not want to take women because they say women are going to have children, and when they have children it means that they will not be at work for a while. But it is a right to have a child, isn't it? They say when a person in the family is sick the woman will not come to work. But sometimes they are jealous also because women work hard and they take care of small details. Women are successful, and they think ‘oh, she is going to take over’.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?

When I was a minister in Guinea, there were not many girls in schools… when you want to have girls in schools you have address gender inequality, and then you also have to address the environment where people learn… My second challenge was when I worked in UNESCO. I found out the different divisions were not working together. You know, primary, secondary, technical, vocational, non-formal and informal, literacy. How can I get them to work together as a team instead of working on their own? I succeeded in making that happen – and also getting the culture department and the Department of Education to work together. How can they work in education without taking into account the cultural aspects of the community?

In boardrooms and parliaments, on television and the stage, women are increasingly making their presence felt across Africa and on the world stage. The inaugural ARISE 100 list champions just some of the remarkable women shaping modern Africa today.

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