Aïcha Bah Diallo, an exceptional woman

"A woman should not worry about what people think of her

On the occasion of the International Women's Day, celebrated this 8th March, we gave the floor to the international president of Aide et Action, Aïcha Bah Diallo. A renowned figure in the fields of lifelong education for all, especially for girls, and the fight for women's rights, she is today a female role model in Africa.

"I was born in Kouroussa, in Upper Guinea. I arrived after three boys, so I was immediately welcomed as the 'darling baby' by my parents. From a very young age, they encouraged me and always believed in me; my father in particular. Not only did he want me to go to school, he also wanted me to be at the top of the class. It was to please him that I always wanted to be the best at what I did.

In the 1960s, very few girls were highly educated in Guinea, but in my opinion, it's all about the parents and the expectations they place on their children. If they are educated, or if they are aware of the importance of education, there will be no problem. The fact that I'm a girl didn't change the way I was brought up, my brothers and I all went to university, equally.

Between luck and straight talk

I also played basketball, volleyball and bowling when I was young. I used to go to my sports classes in shorts, drive a moped and wear blue jeans, never minding the rules of good behaviour. A woman should not worry about what people think of her. I don't know if I was lucky or if it was my outspokenness that kept me out of trouble, but in the end everyone accepted my way of being.

I passed my baccalaureate and continued my studies in the United States, before returning to Conakry to become a Chemistry teacher and high school headmaster. I loved my years of teaching. As long as you work with young people, you stay young and keep learning! Then, thanks to serendipity and the relationships I built through my various experiences, I joined the government. I was not necessarily an "expertʺ but I learned a lot and proved myself on the ground. Yet, when I was appointed as Minister of Education in 1989, I was really surprised, I could never have imagined that!

My aim was to build a solid and sustainable education policy. In order to be sure that what I was putting in place would continue even after I left, I made a point of strengthening the capacities of the entire ministerial team. At the time, the enrolment rate was 29% and we couldn't even count the girls. The structures were inadequate and parents had lost confidence in education. I decided that we had to focus on basic education because that's what it's all about. If the foundation of a house is solid, then the upper floors can stand. When I left my post seven years later, nearly 60% of children were in school.

A well-deserved pride

The subject of girls was also very important. Because of the violence against girls, they did not dare to come to school. When I was a student myself, I was shocked at the treatment of pregnant students who were dismissed by the school. At that time, I swore that when I became a minister, this would no longer exist; I finally kept my promise. And today, thanks to me, no country in Africa does that anymore.

It is essential that education is placed above politics, otherwise you miss the point. You don't want to mix everything up. I think that's why I was respected. I have always remained straight and true to my values, whatever the context. This is what I continued to do later on as Director of Basic Education and Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO and this is what I am doing today as International President of Aide et Action.

I am very proud of my journey and I am especially proud of the relationship of mutual trust that I have managed to establish with my various interlocutors throughout my journey, be it the president, the unions, the teachers, the religious authorities, the parents or my pupils. Today, there are schools named after me and I am a role model for women in Africa. I am also proud of the fact that I helped create the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). It is because of our work that girls' and women's education has been put on the agenda of all African countries. Even though the situation has visibly improved today, we have not yet achieved parity, and it is essential that the same opportunities are offered to all!


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