Aicha Bah Diallo is the former minister of education in Guinea and a senior director at UNESCO. Post-retirement, she continued to work as the advisor for education at UNESCO until 2009. As chairperson of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), she works with various civil society organisations and is a Mo Ibrahim Prize board member. She speaks to New African’s correspondent, Sena Kpodo
I was empowered as a leader from a very young age, and I kept on going. I was the only girl born after 3 boys, and my parents would say to me, “You are a leader. You have to be good at school, not second, but always be first, because we know that you can do it.” And so it began, at school I was the first to wear stacks (trousers), I did sports – basketball, football, tennis – and when my uncles came they’d say to my father, “Hey, your daughter is doing sports, wearing stacks”. My father would reply that he wanted me to have brains as well as a fit physique and good health.
A defining moment for me was when one of my best friends got expelled because she was pregnant. I made a point to my friends that one day I would be the leader of the education sector; they laughed at the possibility, at the time we as a country were not yet independent.
Eventually, Guinea gained independence and fast-forward a few years, I was the Minister for Education. The first thing I did was to change the policy – no more expelling girls because they were pregnant. Initially, even my own staff said to me, “Are you encouraging girls to get pregnant?” I said no, but who is responsible? Is it the education sector, because we didn’t give them any training in that field? Or the parents, because it is a taboo? Both sides are responsible and have to take responsibility. I ran around for two years trying to convince teachers, parents and girls that the girls should come back after they gave birth. Alongside this, all of the women ministers came together and we developed the Forum for African Women Educationalists.
In 2014, I plan to continue promoting quality education for all, not just for some. But more especially, quality inclusive education focusing on those who have been marginalised. Most of the time we neglect people with disabilities who deserve the same opportunities too.
“A defining moment for me was when one of my best friends got expelled because she was pregnant.”
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