Girl Child Education in East Africa
Story By; Prince Wako
The sun rises over the beautiful vegetation and animal life in East Africa. Desire for growth and development calls for more each morning. Take the East African Community, from wall-to-wall. The number of girls enrolling in primary and secondary schools, tertiary institutions and Universities is far less than that of boys. The same applies to completion rates. Among all member countries, South Sudan and Burundi have the worst. Approximately three-quarters of school-age girls are out of classrooms in these two countries combined. In Uganda, 14 percent of school-aged girls and 32 percent of the secondary school-aged girls are out of school. Less than 20 percent of girls aged between 14 and 20 finish primary education in Uganda. The Ministry of Education in Kenya knows that there are higher school dropout rates for girls as opposed to boys, with a small enrollment rate of 31 percent in secondary schools for the girls. In Tanzania, most girls are enrolled in primary schools late, most especially among the pastoral communities in the north. Even when Rwanda is praised for its successful efforts to improve girl child education, statistics still show, there are more literate males as opposed to the females. With higher rates of repetition recorded among the girls across the community, there is the need for us to carefully examine the underlying factors in order to come up with lasting solutions.
Note, there are girls in conflict areas of South Sudan, Burundi, there are those living in different camps all over East Africa obviously fleeing conflict zones in DR Congo, Somalia, South Sudan and Burundi. A majority of these innocent girls have seen awful scenes featuring violence, abandonment, rape, starvation and hate. In refugee camps like Daadab in Kenya, girls are restrained by distinct characteristics of male dominance. In reality, girls face series of economic, social-cultural, biological and protection barriers that make it more difficult for them as girls to access quality education. What do we know about the realities of girl child education in our community? What can we do about girl child education in East Africa?
First of all, early marriage and pregnancy prevent girls from finishing school. UNICEF ranks South Sudan 5th on the list of countries with high rates of early marriages and pregnancies in the whole world. In this community, marrying off a young girl is seen as a source of resources such as cattle, more so if she is still a virgin. Parents strive to have their daughters marry earlier, to avoid the risk of losing their virginity before marriage. UNICEF estimates that 52 percent of the girls are married off before their 18th birthday. Caitlin Mc Gee, a Journalist working for Al Jazeera, shared the reality of girls in this part of East Africa in her reports. In Nyal, Unity State, South Sudan – Elizabeth Nyanyot Diu was forced into marriage and motherhood when she was still a child. At the age of 12, she was forced to marry a 30-year-old man who battered her repeatedly. This closed all possible doors of her furthering formal education. She got pregnant two years after the marriage but there were several complications. She almost died because her body was not ready to carry and give birth. Eventually, her firstborn died, she was only 14. At such a tender age, while her peers were in school, she was being battered by her husband. Elizabeth, now grown, feels betrayed by her parents. Most of her friends that completed school exhibit greater confidence and are always handed important responsibilities in the community. This has filled her with regret all her life.
About 30 percent of NGOs in East Africa mention poverty as one of the reasons girls drop out of school. In poor households, parents usually fail to meet the basic needs of their daughters, such as notebooks, uniforms, and pads. This psychologically affects girls. Some resort to staying at home while others get married. In such cases, some parents use their daughters as sources of income either through the dowry or engaging them in a petty business like selling dry fish, from homestead to homestead. Despite the abolition of certain core fees in the Tanzanian education system, parents are always unable to meet other school costs. This poses a big challenge for those enrolled. Children are prone to expulsion from school if they are absent for 3 consecutive months. In Northern Tanzania, Mangula village, Ketumbeini ward, the pastoralists are faced with a lack of adequate rainfall every year, this limits their family income, and this has forced many parents to recall their daughters from schools as they cannot afford to keep them there. Miseyeki Hamisi had to miss school for 2 years because her father simply could not afford to keep all of his three children in school. Being the only girl, she stayed home at the expense of her brothers going to school. She had to listen to her parents’ pleas. Nevertheless, she got back into school when the family’s finances improved.
Another aspect is, health, teenage relationships, and HIV/AIDS. The high number of school pregnancies is an indicator of unprotected sexual activity, unnecessary teenage relationships and the high vulnerability of girls to HIV infection. Moreover, girls who are normally caregivers become especially burdened when HIV/AIDS strikes the family. This prevents them from attending school regularly. In 2014, sixteen-year-old Christina, a student at Bishop Okoth Mariga High school in Kisumu, Kenya, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. He waylaid her on her way to school early in the morning and chopped her into pieces on grounds that he still wanted to have a sexual relationship with her. By the time she was murdered, she had just joined standard three after a year of absence from formal education. Her teenage relationship ended up taking her life. In other instances, such risky relationships are fertile ground for teenage HIV infections. This explains why the rates of HIV infections are higher amongst girls as opposed to boys. Our commitment towards ensuring that children do not indulge in risky sexual relationships has vanished. This kind of reality has forced many girls to leave school.
Moving on, we all know that girls who quit school for humiliating reasons are part of our society. Their ability or inability to fully develop their potential affects each of us in one way or the other. So if we all agree that keeping them in school is very important for their future and that of our nations, then we should do something to either minimize or do away with the problem of them dropping out of school at different levels.
First, some suggestions:
Build stronger schooling systems with clear learning standards, well-trained teachers, adequate resources and proper regulatory environment that emphasizes accountability and good sanitation. As a community, member countries should emphasize the implementation of set regional education standards by setting up effective monitoring teams in different parts of their countries. The monitoring should involve seeking accountability from the parents and management committees of schools on how they have used the available resources and their positions to support girl child education.
Secondly, tackle disabilities. Disabilities come in different forms, they could be in form of physical body disabilities, distance from homes to schools and so on. In some instances, girls with disabilities are ignored, first as disabled persons and secondly as females. Teaching sign language or teaching them how to use their feet to write, in case their hands cannot, is a way of starting somewhere. Personally, I have seen children writing national exams using their feet and they have completed successfully. During my time at Makerere University Law School, there was a very brilliant, blind Bachelor of Laws student who graduated with honors. This only proves to us that tackling these disabilities will empower many girls to develop their potential through education.
I know it takes time for societies to unlearn, more so if there is a myriad of customs that have been dictating how people should develop their roles in a society for generations. In a generation where the world is more connected than before, where nations are looking for solutions to every bottleneck, we need to get ourselves up. It is not hard, we just have to clean our mess in the most practical way possible. There is something everyone can do, it does not matter who you are, what you are. It is all about that we realize that we really can do something to improve and enable girl child education in East Africa.
As a society, we therefore should promote Gender Equality. . This basically means that men and women enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of the society. It could be participating in economic activities or decision-making at different levels. Everyone’s aspirations should be valued. Let us stop keeping our daughters and sisters at home because customs dictate that they can only do domestic chores. Giving opportunities to girls to go to school, will help the community become more productive in the long run.
Parents and guardians should demonstrate good parental style by guiding and talking with their daughters. Parents and guardians have abandoned their roles under the pretext of being so busy with work. Work or no work – which kind of generation are we raising if we are not giving the necessary guidance to our children? Sometimes listening to your daughter at a very critical moment is enough to save her from getting an unwanted pregnancy. We must wake up.
We have a lot to do, but also have the ability to do whatever we are meant to do in order to keep our daughters in school. The will has to grow in all of us regardless of our background. So often we let our past dictate our future. But the fact is: the world is developing at a terrific speed to the extent that it is more expensive to maintain high levels of uneducated persons in any developing nation. I, therefore, urge you to gather your resolve and commit to keeping the girl child in school until completion. With this, growth and development will become our anthem and the sun will set over the hills and grasslands with a beautiful yellow and orange color filling us with total satisfaction.