At the end of last year, Paul Yaya Traoré was considering giving his daughter away to be married.
“I was just waiting for the New Year’s break to celebrate the wedding,” he told a broadcaster from Radio Moutian, a station in the Ségou Region of Mali.
Paul lives in Lenekuy, a community in the same region near the border with Burkina Faso, almost 500 km east of Bamako, the capital city. In the region, for girls in ninth grade, around the age of 14 or 15, it isn’t uncommon for their families to be thinking about marriage.
But radio programs are changing that.
After listening to radio programs on the importance of girls’ education, Paul made an about-turn.
“The advice made me reflect deeply. I immediately talked with my wife to explain the mistake that we would make by giving away our daughter in marriage. In the end we decided that she should finish her studies.”
Paul isn’t alone in having his mind changed.
Barriers for girls getting an education in Mali
Since facing a coup d’etat in 2012, the west-African country of Mali has faced ongoing conflict and insecurity — the grim reality of too many places around the world in 2022.
But, Malians haven’t let conflict prevent them from imagining a better future for their youth.
“Communities are at the heart of decision-making.”Malamine Traore, Farm Radio Country Representative, Mali
While it’s seen recent improvements, education has suffered enormously since 2012. Displacement and the closure of schools has left children unable to go to school — more than half on Mali’s youth are not literate, and 2 million school-aged children were not enrolled in school. By the time they make it to secondary school, only 37% of girls are enrolled.
Yet, Mali is a place with a strong tradition of education — it is home to one of the world’s oldest universities, dating back to the 1100s.
Still, insecurity coupled with cultural practices mean barriers for girls trying to complete school.
In partnership with Alinea and a consortium of other NGOs — who are working to strengthen school systems themselves and make them more welcoming for girls — Farm Radio is developing radio programs that dig into the heart of the issue: why girls aren’t attending school in the first place.
Communities — and radio — key to changing minds
“Communities are at the heart of decision-making,” says Farm Radio’s Malian country representative, Malamine Traore. Early marriage, gender-based violence, and attitudes towards gender were all identified by community members as reasons why girls don’t attend school.
So radio programs on eight stations — reaching all the way to Timbuktu —are sparking conversations about gender, school, and the benefits of school for both boys and girls.
And it’s working. Families like Paul’s are making different decisions for their daughters.
Kadidia Sogoba is a mother of three in Tominian, Mali. She listens to the programs on Radio Moutian with a community listening group formed of others in her town, and actively calls into the programs.
She says the programs have sparked conversations between herself and her husband as well.
“Before the programs, my husband was not very interested in the schooling of our children, especially our daughter Cécille. I was the only one who dealt with the schooling needs of my children,” she said. Now, she says, her husband plays an active role in the education of their children.
“This radio communication project has been a good thing for us and our children. It pushes us in good directions and has made us understand the importance of school in general and that of girls in particular.”
It’s a result that we’ve seen spread out across the country.
DÉFI project makes a difference
“After two years of implementation, we can safely say that the DEFI project is contributing to a significant improvement in girls’ enrollment and attendance in school,” says Malamine. “It is worth noting that our gender-sensitive radio program is at the heart of this significant change.”
For Animata Diallo Traoré (unrelated to Paul) a mother from Drimbé in Northern Mali who listens to the programs on Daande Duwansa Radio, it’s clear that that is true.
“The importance of your radio program is immense in this period of crisis and insecurity, especially the information about the education of our children and how to support a child at school. We appreciate your radio programs that help us in our daily activities. We want them to continue.”
And better education can only mean one thing: a better future.
Top photo: The Traoré family, courtesy of Radio Moutian
Second photo: Kadidia Sogoba interviewed by a broadcaster at Radio Moutian
About the project
The five-year ‘’Défi education des filles au Mali“(DÉFI) project aims to improve access to and quality of education for girls in conflict-affected communities across Mali. Farm Radio International is working in partnership with Alinea International to reduce barriers to girls education thanks to funding from the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.