Marshet holds herself up as she speaks; engaging her audience with questions, moving from side to side as she explains the need to support young girls in her community during a World Children’s Day event, on November 20, 2018 in Hawassa, Ethiopia. Her audience includes high government officials, school teachers, community members and students gathered at the event organized by the Women and Children Affairs Bureau of Hawassa. Looking at her confidence and ability to articulate, Marshet looks like she was born with a skill for public speaking. But that has not always been the case.

Marshet Zelalem, 18, was born in the rural village of Assella, Oromia, Ethiopia. She was mostly a reserved and insecure 10 year old girl when she moved to Hawassa and joined the Adare Primary School. She recalls being afraid to raise her hand and ask questions in her classroom let alone speak in front of so many people. Marshet took part in the Life Skill training for female students organized by UNESCO. The training includes personal development, leadership skills study habit, problem solving skills, communication skills, negotiation and creativity. She also passed on her knowledge by giving training to peers in her school who are in 5th -8th grades.

“After the training I developed the skill to speak up, to debate and convince others,” she says. She later competed with other students from various schools in Hawassa town to be the president of the children’s parliament. In her role at the parliament, Marshet advocates for improving the community’s awareness on women and children’s rights. Marshet currently manages eight people under her presidential role. She has also given the Life Skill training to 80 children members of the parliament who are in between ages 10-17. According to her Physical Education teacher, Yohannis Fentter, Marshet grew to be more confident after she took part in the training. “She has not always been like that,” he says.The timid, quite girl from a small rural town grew not only to be the president of the children’s parliament but also the Public Relations focal person for Women and Children Bureau of Tabor town.

As a result of the life skill training, Marshet learned to let go of her belief that she can’t achieve as much as the male students in her class room. “I believed that ‘I could not’ just because I was born a female. She adds that even teachers in her school used to discriminate between female and male students, “They used to think male students are better than the female students so they made us feel inferior.Even the exercise books depicted women as prostitutes or as victims of sexually transmitted diseases, generally as failures in life.” Marshet notes that she noticed that the teachers started to discuss girls in positive roles in their pedagogy, after they took the Gender Responsive Pedagogy training.

According to the School Principal, Abeje Asrat, students have shown improved study skills and mindset after the training. He notes that the number of students who passed the 8th grade national exam has increased from 70% in 2016/17 to 85 % in 2017/18 academic year, with higher improvement of grades among female students. There are now more girls involved in school clubs, tardiness and the dropout rate has decreasd.

Meanwhile, Marshet, now a 9th grade student at Tabor High School, Hawassa, Ethiopia, aspires to build good governance in her community.

Adare Primary school is one of the target schools for UNESCO-Hainan Foundation Funds- in-Trust Project on “Enhancing the Quality and Relevance of Education for Adolescent Girls in Ethiopia.” Established in 1960, the school currently has a total of 2049 students out of which 376 are male and 542 are female students in 5th-8th grades. The school took part in the Life Skills training for female students and GRP (Gender Responsive Pedagogy), GRA (Gender Responsive Assessment) and gender audit toolkit training for teachers. Thus the teachers have learned to incorporate gender responsive pedagogy.

The UNESCO-HNA project aims at contributing to ensuring girls’ right to quality and relevant education whereby all girls access, stay, transition and achieve education for better lives/livelihoods.