Inside Mali: Educational Challenges for Young Girls

Written by: Néusia Cossa

What is considered an appropriate environment for a young girl to study? In Mali such as in many African countries, there’s political instability, that most times leave girls and other groups with not so many options related to school. Internal conflicts are forcing academic life to stop or delay.

According to Educational Highlights (2007:1), although Mali has made impressive progress in getting more children into school, the gender gap is still wide. In pastoral communities in northern Mali, less than a third of girls attend school. Local women are helping to raise girls’ enrolments, but schools are failing to challenge assumptions about roles for women and girls.

Some organizations like Oxfam have tried to work towards achieving gender equality and quality education by developing a flexible approach that aims to increase the number of girls who go to school and stay in school. It also ensures that they acquire relevant and long-term basic skills in mathematics, literacy, health, and nutrition. 

Malian girls have a greater risk of early school dropout, seeing as they are expected to marry young. According to UNICEF, while 62 percent of all Malian children who enter primary schooling eventually finish their last year of primary school, 64 percent of boys and only 59 percent of girls complete their basic education.

Insecurity and lack of funding forced over half a million children out of school. The critical shortfall in humanitarian funding for education, combined with attacks on schools by armed groups, is currently keeping 519,000 children out of school across Mali. 

In the last year, the number of children dropping out of school in the country has increased by 15 percent, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“Outside the classroom, children are more vulnerable to early marriage, economic exploitation, and recruitment by armed groups,” said Maclean Natugasha, Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Mali. “We must keep the doors of the schools open to close those of the paths of poverty and violence.”

Threats from armed groups remain the main factor behind the closure of 1,700 schools in Mali today. Over the past two years, the country has been among the three African countries whose schools are most attacked, along with Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).

In addition to insecurity, emergency education in conflict zones is severely underfunded. Since the beginning of the year, 1 in 10 schools in Mali has remained closed due to a lack of infrastructure and school equipment. Mali’s national budget cannot cover the needs and education is one of the least funded sectors in the humanitarian response, accounting for only 2 percent of funds received in 2022. Therefore, the education contextualization of Mali is complex due to factors regarding internal conflicts. 

In a study of the scientific, technical, and vocational education of African girls, UNESCO found that on average women made up 23 percent of college graduates in the medical field, three percent of engineering graduates, and 10 percent of graduates in agricultural sciences. Tertiary education in Mali may be inaccessible to many students, but it is especially unobtainable to Malian girls. In response to these findings, the UNESCO office in Bamako and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has taken measures to fund a UNESCO-UNFPA-UNWOMEN joint project. The initiative aims to increase access to quality education for adolescent girls and young women, provide protective gender-sensitive learning environments adapted to strengthened links between education and health, and provide social services for adolescent girls and young women.

Although education in Mali has seen some improvement in recent years, reassessment of the barriers which don’t allow young students as well as expanding efforts to help them is crucial for continued development.

For Marcella Vigneri and Simone Lombardini (2015:4) a project on girls’ education, which was active between 2011 and 2015, had a positive impact on empowerment. In particular, the following key results were found: 

  • Girls in the intervention group scored positively in 70 percent of the 20 empowerment indicators whereas girls in the comparison group scored positively in 67 percent. 
  • 55 percent of project girls successfully moved on to secondary school, compared with 47 percent in the comparison group. 
  • Over three-quarters of the project, girls made the transition to the grade they should be in, but there is no evidence that this is directly associated with project activities. 
  • School results are significantly better among project girls than among girls in the comparison group. 
  • Equitable treatment of boys and girls in school was found to be reported significantly more among girls in the intervention group than among girls in the comparison group.

Although the projects seem to have great results in schooling girls and young women, it is good to reflect on why there is a high rate of girls and other groups without basic and tertiary education in many African countries. The biggest barrier to education and development for either girls or other groups is the lack of peace. Peace is an important key to developing a community and so an entire country, while the war and frequent conflicts remain in Mali and other African countries, there will not be a large room for education and development to bloom. So, peacekeeping is one of the urgently needed strategies to pursue, and it should involve all the target people therein. 

With that said, in terms of girls’ education, Mali has a bunch of challenges mainly due to traditions that drive girls to their so-called family roles. However, the success of some projects leads to a generation of people being more aware of the importance of girls in school. And that’s a reason to celebrate women’s international day.


  1. 5th March, 2023 by 19:31
  2.   4th March, 2023 by 22:57
  3. 5th March, 2023 by 19:35Marcella Vigneri and Simone Lombardini.  Women’s Empowerment in Mali: Impact evaluation of the educational project: ‘Girls CAN – Promoting Secondary Education in West Africa. Oxfam. 2015. University of Sussex. education highlights 4: girls education. Institute of Development Studies. 2007.
  4. Cited Image-1:,_Mali_-_2008.jpg – Wikimedia Commons W.E.A. Van Beek
  5. Cited Image-2: – Dan Lundmark, Flickr

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