Rafiatu Lawal: education empowers African women

After persevering through her own challenges, Rafiatu Lawal now helps other young women in Ghana pursue their dreams.

By , Skoll World Forum

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    'I advise my students that if you have a dream, you cannot allow yourself to be distracted. If my students say they can’t do it, I say they can fight like I did,' says Rafiatu Lawal.
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Many lives are touched and changed as a result of women completing schooling and taking control of their own financial situations. My life has been transformed, my future is bright, and I have been able to help others because I am educated and empowered. My dreams for the future reflect this experience.

As a young girl, I didn’t dream that I would get a university degree. Due to my family background, I used to go to school with an empty stomach and a uniform that was not presentable. I faced many challenges but I did not give up. As I climbed the educational ladder, I persevered through my problems, and I became the first girl in my family to gain a degree. In my community in Ghana most girls drop out of school, and so a lot now look up to me as a role model.

When I finished school I joined the Cama network. Cama brings together educated young African women and encouraged my leadership and personal skills. It also taught me that we have to be each other’s keepers, mentoring and supporting younger children in our communities to develop. I had the privilege of becoming a teacher.

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As a teacher, I find many students who are at risk of dropping out. They face financial and emotional barriers. They are tired because they have been selling produce before and after school. They fall victim to men and are taken advantage of, and their families do not always believe in the education of the girl child.

However, I counsel them and tell them: "I grew up just like you." I advise my students that if you have a dream, you cannot allow yourself to be distracted. If my students say they can’t do it, I say they can fight like I did. Alongside other Cama members, I also discuss the importance of keeping children in school with parents in my community.

Additionally, I love reaching young people on air through the radio. I have presented programs on giving back, spoken to many people, and learned a lot. In this position, I remind young people that although there are many jobs and prospects in the cities, we must always remember the homes where we come from. Although we may leave to fulfill our ambitions, we must come back to our communities and give back, remembering that we must fight for our small corner of the world because no one else will.

I am a woman of dreams, a woman who sometimes comes up with crazy ideas. Today in Ghana many young girls drop out of school, often traveling to the cities in the south to take up insecure employment.

When I was recently with a friend we watched the porters who carry goods for a living in the market – young girls who could not even look us in the eyes. We thought about what would help these girls. They needed education, entrepreneurial skills, and support.

This could have been my life without the chances I have had, and I want to help young women who are out of school to have better prospects than jobs that reduce their dignity and give them no rights. My greatest dream is a future in which all women are educated and empowered, where they can stand up tall, fight for their rights and say, "I am proud to be a woman."

I also dream of disabled people having more prospects. When I see disabled people begging on the streets I wonder what the future holds for them and their families.

There are two Cama members in Tamale who are visually impaired but are well-educated and successful women. One has just completed university and the other is in teacher training college. I believe that if there were more opportunities for people with disabilities to find employment and training, they would flourish. I would like to liaise with my Cama friends and other disabled people to help others with disabilities.

In 2012, I was chosen by the MasterCard Foundation to be a member of its Youth Tank. This introduced me to new people, places, and ideas. I went to the UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris where I learned so much.

I came back to Ghana with a passion for entrepreneurship and a belief that if young people want to succeed they have to be creative, take their destiny into their own hands, and build upon their unique ideas. I also learned about the value of social media as a tool for networking, learning, and growing businesses. This has informed the way that I run the business that I have and the advice I give to other young people.

I look forward to learning more from the great experiences of the international community represented at the Skoll World Forum and to making partnerships with those interested in education and economic empowerment.

Rafiatu Lawal is national chairperson of the Cama network in Ghana.

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