“A woman should not worry about what one may think of her”
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8 March, we have given the word to Aide et Action’s International President, Aïcha Bah Diallo. An acknowledged figure in the field of life-long education for all, especially girls, and the struggle for women’s rights, she is now a female role model in Africa.
“I was born in Kouroussa, in Upper Guinea. I came to this world after three boys, so I was immediately welcomed as the “baby darling” by my parents. From a very young age, they encouraged me and always believed in me; my father in particular. He not only wanted me to go to school, but especially to be the first in class. It was to please him that I always wanted to be the best in what I did.
In the sixties, very few girls were studying in Guinea, but in my opinion, everything depends on 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 am a girl did not change the way I was raised, my brothers and I all went to university on an equal footing.
Between luck and outspokenness
I also practiced basketball, volleyball and bowling when I was young. I went to my gym classes in shorts, I drove a moped and I wore blue jeans, without ever worrying about the rules of good behaviour. A woman does not have to worry about what one may think of her. I do not know if I was lucky or if it was my outspokenness that allowed me to never encounter a problem, but finally everyone accepted my way of being.
I obtained my baccalaureate and I continued my studies in the United States, before returning to Conakry to be a chemistry teacher and high school principal. I loved my years of teaching. As long as we work with youth, we stay young and we continue to learn! Then, thanks to the happy coincidences and the relationships that I had woven throughout my different experiences, I entered the government. I was not necessarily an “expert” but I learned a lot and I proved myself in the field. Yet, when I was appointed Minister of Education in 1989, I was really surprised; I could never have imagined that!
My desire has been to build a strong and sustainable education policy. To make sure that what I was putting in place would continue even after I left, I wanted to build the capacity of the entire ministerial team. At the time, the enrollment rate was 29% and we could not even count girls. Structures were inadequate and parents had lost confidence in education. I decided that we should focus on basic education because that is where everything relies on. If the foundation of a house is solid, then the upper floors can hold. When I left my position, seven years later, nearly 60% of the children were in school.
A pride that is well-deserved
The subject of girls was also very important. Because of violence against girls, they did not dare to come to school. When I was a high school student, I was shocked by the treatment of pregnant students who were fired by the school. At that time, I swore that when I became a minister, it would not exist anymore; I finally kept my promise. And nowadays, thanks to my efforts, no country acts that way in Africa.
It is essential that education be placed above politics, otherwise you miss the boat. Do not mix everything up. I think that’s why I made myself respected. I have always stayed upright and faithful to my values, whatever the context. That’s what I continued to do later, as Director of Basic Education and as Director-General for Education at UNESCO, and that’s what I’m doing today as International President of Aide et Action.
I am very proud of my career and I am especially proud of the relationship of mutual trust that I have managed to establish with my various contacts throughout my career, be it the president, the unions, teachers, religious authorities, parents or my students. Nowadays, schools bear my name and I embody a certain role model for women in Africa. The fact of having contributed to the creation of the Forum of African Women Teachers (FAWE) is also a great pride. It is thanks to our action that the education of girls and women has been put on the agenda of all African countries. Although the situation has obviously improved today, we have not reached parity yet; but it is essential that the same opportunities be offered to everyone! “