Building a bridge for women in higher education
Message from Eric Soard, March 22, 2022
When Wesley College opened in 2017, it started with 20 theology students, only 3 of whom were female. Right before the break between the first terms, I remember sitting down with one of our students, Veronica, and asking her for ideas on how to reach more female students. I also encouraged her to ask women in her home area if they’d be interested in studying at Wesley College. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to have an equal number of female and male students at Wesley College.
Fast forward five years, and our student population is about 40 percent female. This is better than when we started, but for us, it is still not enough. In Tanzania, female students make up almost 50 percent of students in secondary school, but only 30 percent in college. Given that Tanzania’s new female president, the Hon. Samia Suluhu Hassan, is emphasizing women’s education, this is a great time to push for increased participation of women in higher education. As usual at Wesley College, we are committed to enrolling women–especially those in rural, impoverished areas–who need the biggest boost to enter college.
Barriers to education for women
Many barriers face women who are pursuing higher education in Tanzania. Most of these are centered around family life in Tanzania. I respect this very much, but it is a challenge. Traditional views of the qualities of a desirable wife do not generally include education. Many families have limited resources and must be selective about how they invest in their future.
Women are expected to marry at a younger age than men, meaning they have less time to finish higher education. Wives leave their homes to become part of their husbands’ families. Since male children often support their aging parents, investing in male children is often the only retirement plan parents have. Thus educating sons is a higher priority. These are just a few of the reasons why many young women–even those who attended school as children–don’t pursue higher education.
Building a Daraja
That is why we are excited to be launching the Daraja (“bridge” in Swahili) Program this year. It is designed to bring awareness and education to rural communities about the many opportunities that college provides for young women. With targeted programs designed to address the concerns of families and the young women themselves, Wesley College hopes not only to increase its enrollment but also build a bridge that will connect young women to their dreams of receiving a college education and charting their own path in life. This is one of the school’s three pillars.
We are so thankful to the Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation for their grant to help fund our pilot of the Daraja Program and to Auburn University’s Global Studies in Human Sciences department for helping us design parts of the program.
Executive Director, Wesley College Foundation