PLANT THE SEED AND LET IT GROW


“Women and girls are Africa’s greatest untapped resource, and it is they, not diamonds or oil and minerals, that will be the foundation for solid, sustainable and equitable progress.” - Mozambique’s former president, Joaquim Chissano.

[Ventures Africa]

Enrolment of young girls into school in the African countries is extremely low, which hinders their opportunities in life. Those who are not educated have a recurring pattern of getting married early, falling into the hands of poverty and find it difficult to stir away from their traditional roles. To these girls, education is their ticket out of a life purely governed by gender roles. Young girls are becoming more ambitious, have dreams of taking on roles that are traditionally filled by men, and what can aid them into achieving this? Education. 


Every child has a right to education, but this is something that is not reflected in some African countries. The picture below shows the rate of young girls out-of-school in the year 2016. 


[rate of girls out-of-school]


For girls in rural areas, poverty is the main barrier to their education. Fees are too much for them to afford, and families tend to have to decide on one child to send to school, which almost always tends to be the son, while the daughter is restricted to long hours of household chores at a young age. Those girls are married off early, some due to the family's need for money from the marriage, and they grow up to be illiterate and unable to generate money for themselves and their family. This is why education is essential, it enables one to claim their own independence and, especially for girls, to break through the barriers that restrict them.

Furthermore, education of sexual heath is also an element that is missing in girls education. They are not taught and are unaware of how HIV/AIDS spread which results in them contracting it, thus the need for this to be introduced into their curriculum is of importance. Furthermore, there is a lack of emotional support towards children who have lost one or both parents to HIV, this is something that needs to be taken into account.


"Educating a girl changes her destiny, as well as those of her future children, and ensures that she can contribute to the economic life of her community"

As I mentioned in my previous article, education is one of the factors that hinder a woman's opportunity to participate in the legislature. By being educated at a young age, more career paths are available to girls such as being involved in the government and taking part in the law-making process. By having more female representatives, the problems surrounding education such as the gender gap of enrolment into schools and graduation, conditions of the classrooms, harassment faced by young girls in school and more, will be pressured to be addressed. Unfortunately, some governments are not dedicated to their obligation to ensure gender equality in education, thus female representatives can put pressure on their governments to carry out this obligation effectively.  

What needs to be done to encourage girls to attend school?

Studies show that making education free and compulsory is beneficial in aiding the elimination of gender disparity in education. By making education free, poorer families would not have to make a choice between which child to send to school due to a lack of finances. For example, in Malawi, the abolition of school fees in 1994 led to the increase of enrolment of almost 70% from 1.9 million in the 1993/94 academic year to 3.2 million in the 1994/95 academic year (girls and boys combined). However, completion of school is still low amongst girls which could be a result of other factors. In Malawi, young girls have to drop out of school due to teenage pregnancies which, for some, results from the fact that they start school at an older age and reach adolescence while still in primary school. There are still issues that arise despite education being free and compulsory:
  • Teacher to student ratios are incredibly high, sometimes with 1 teacher for more than 60 students which is not beneficial for children in primary schools as they do not receive one to one guidance. 
  • The conditions that the children learn in are not of good standard. There are barely enough classrooms as well as scarce resources such as books and desks, thus some children have to learn outside regardless if there is bad weather. 
More schools need to be built within a closer vicinity to those who live in rural areas. My dad would tell me about how he would have to walk miles to attend school since he lived in a rural area, and a mode of transport was not available.  In some communities, the closest school could be up to a four or five hour walk. Girls may face dangers and violence along the way and back therefore many parents prefer to keep them at home.

We need to break through the traditional gender norms that still restrict women in the African countries to date. Girls may be prevented from going to school due to their household work being valued more over their education. Parents need to be encouraged to see the advantages of sending their daughters to school, and the long-term beneficial effects it would have on their lives.

Many big organisations, such as UNICEF, have collaborated with the African governments to tackle the issues surrounding education in the African countries and the gender gap. There have also been some successful national efforts to tackle this issue for example, Zambia's Programme for the Advancement of Girls' Education with its 12 'Interactive Interventions' , which was a pilot project in the mid-1990s, has been incredibly successful and has been adopted throughout the whole country. One of their interventions had the purpose of increasing parental involvement which was received positively but its implementation was difficult due to parents being illiterate and a low attendance to the sessions.

A lot of these issues require governmental assistance to tackle but with their lack of focus on the problems girls face in education, having them addressed is difficult. As aforementioned, the introduction of policies to tackle this issue would be more likely to be achieved with female representatives in our governments. This would ensure that the implementation of these policies would be monitored closely.

YOU can also contribute to ensure that young girls go to school through donations to organisations, taking part in events that fundraise and raise awareness of the issue, and volunteering with the organisations in which you can also go abroad and aid in teaching in one of the schools. Use any platform you have to shed light upon this issue and get involved as much as you can.

As always, stay ambitious and optimistic 😊

- Tasneim Mahmoud x