“In most rural communities, the socialization between girls and boys was closely watched by parents, relatives, and where none of these were, the community took the responsibility to watch on behalf of parents. With such restrictions, girls had to be kept in the vicinity of homesteads, to protect them from boys who were regarded superior and stronger”
Like the rest of other children, girls are equally entitled to a good start, at the earliest stage of their development. Reality is, parents give birth, and they nurture, nurse and teach their children how best to interact with this ever changing world. With such an immediate role, they exert a lot more influence over their children’s development at an early age as opposed to the rest of the community. One will argue that practical interventions are significant pillars in growth and development, which is very true but not all that is needed. In rural Sub-Saharan Africa, where societies have had particular traditions, that have greatly influenced parent’s opinions and feelings towards girl child education, it is important to appreciate the role of parent’s attitudes in relation to the goal of educating the girl child. It is very important to embrace the right attitude, which in actual sense leads us to our desired targets of development, regardless of where we choose to live. With different people in the same societies disadvantaged at multiple layers, there is need for interventions that go to the root of our attitudes towards that which works in support of the multiple layers of prejudices. So, with the right parental attitude towards girl child education, comes needed support to keep them in school with the required necessities at all cost. In most Sub-Saharan societies, women had specific gender roles; as wives and mothers. These were deeply rooted in customs and values. Proverbs supporting such roles made up the biggest part of local literature, therefore the notion of the girl child only playing the supporting role in the community grew into a belief. Traditionally, women were regarded physically and mentally weaker, such an attitude made it so hard for parents to equip their girls with decent education, this has trickled down to the modern generation. In the modern age, changes in the socio-economic arena have made education so important, not only for the potential of improving income, but for empowering development, independence and improved livelihood, regardless of whether one is a boy or girl.
In most rural communities, the socialization between girls and boys was closely watched by parents, relatives, and where none of these were, the community took the responsibility to watch on behalf of parents. With such restrictions, girls had to be kept in the vicinity of homesteads, to protect them from boys who were regarded superior and stronger. There was fear of early pregnancy, rape and loss of virginity in case of any unsupervised interaction with boys. These stereo types have survived in most rural areas. With such fears in many parent’s minds, some still have negative opinions towards letting their daughters free from their supervision in schools. The existence of mixed schools, and cases of teenage pregnancies in most rural schools make it worse. Such fears have kept the negative attitude of parents towards girl child education alive, since they have an engraved belief that, the perceived gender roles are more important in the development of their daughters. Most parents believe, regardless of levels of education, their daughters will eventually be mothers and wives and therefore ‘no need for education,’
Secondly, most rural societies, still believe in the stereo types that portray girls as being less capable than boys and thus invest more in boys. This explains why in some families, decisions on what girls should do with their lives are done by their brothers and fathers regardless of
circumstances. Dowry is negotiated by the males in the family regardless of the development necessities of the girl in the home. So in actual sense, the girls only play a supporting role or an implementing role of the decisions and desires of the others in the family. With high levels of poverty in most of these rural areas, parents will often look at marriage of their daughters as the quickest way of earning a little more income, in such instances, girl child education will always be secondary, even when it is her primary wish.
Most rural areas are made up of parents with low levels of education, as opposed to urban centers. This also, is significant in determining the levels of exposure to modern social-economic circumstances. Such a scenario will have a significant effect on parental involvement in school activities. Yes, we might have free education in these rural areas, but if the parents are not fully involved in supporting their daughters in school, there will develop a laxity or no commitment towards going all the way on the path of education. In a society where many girls have dropped out of school, opting for marriage, it is important for parents who wish to see their daughters survive that path, get actively involved in their school activities, and exert their influence, geared towards attainment of a decent education that will in turn support girl child livelihood, regardless of where one chooses to live or the time.
Attitude stems from opinion or feeling, and this has a great deal to with what we decide to do as human beings or how we act or the decisions we take. After my college days, I met a new friend, Joan. She lived with her biological mother, and a step-father, plus three siblings. Joan was eager to wind up with her secondary school education, but she had only started attending senior three classes. Her mother sold vegetables in the village market to support the family, her step father worked at different construction sites as a casual laborer. Their income as parents was never enough to support the education of all their children. The three siblings were all boys. These parents, had never received education during their early years, but their desire to work had earned them skills in fields of merchandising and construction respectively. This gave them exposure towards what the modern society needed in terms of girl child empowerment, but this exposure was not enough.
At the beginning of the following year, Joan attending senior four classes, she got pregnant, the man responsible, a head teacher. For me, and many of her friends, this was a very challenging moment in her life, that would in real sense make or break her dream of attaining a University degree, but her parents had a different idea, her relatives had different ideas, and not even the law came into play in terms of defilement. Being a head teacher the man responsible for the pregnancy was regarded as wealthy, and of ‘high social status.’ What then did the parents and relatives choose to do? They agreed with the head teacher to do the following; he had to pay dowry for Joan and eventually marry her, regardless of her age, they agreed that Joan should be given a break from school to give her a conducive time during pregnancy and after giving birth, thirdly the head teacher also agreed to pay school fees for Joan’s sibling, her brother. Nothing was said of Joan resuming school after giving birth. Time passed by, the traditional marriage ceremony was organized, Joan was married off, she gave birth but everything about her changed. Even as we
supported each other as friends and encouraged one another never give up on attaining University degrees, regardless of circumstances, it became increasingly hard for her to remain focused on her goal. On several occasions, she regretted having gone with the flow of accepting the decision of her parents marrying her off. One particular statement, that I will never forget, she said, “…with the child, I would have made it back to school, but in a marriage with a jealous husband, my back breaks every single day.” The weight of marriage made it so hard to continue with her studies, she was never psychologically ready to deal with the pressures of marriage. Her parents wanted her to stay in the marriage at all cost, her husband was paying her brother’s school fees, so she had to make the sacrifice for him. Joan never continued with her studies, she had to adopt to the circumstances as a house wife and an offer to cater for her brother’s school fees.
Prince Wako foundation is exploiting all avenues to engineer the empowerment of the girl child. Looking at the Sub-Saharan region in particular, we now know that our cause will not only have practical intervention of providing resources and materials, but also working with parents in most rural societies, to grow and unlearn and eventually develop positive attitudes towards girl child education, regardless of the traditionally cherished stereotypes. Looking forward, our endeavors will look at both attitudes and practical interventions, so that there is adequate support, to our daughters’ stay in school. In our commitment towards the girl child, our steps will eventually thrive to close any kinds of loopholes that hider development and growth of the girl child in the respective societies where they are nurtured. With a positive attitude towards girl child education from parents, the work of empowerment will be given a smooth run, eventually prejudices like early marriage will be done away with and most countries in the region will boast of an evenly distributed high level of development in different homesteads.
Attitude development comes with encouragement, teaching and resource provision, this has been embedded in most of our projects that we are carrying out in rural communities in Uganda. We seek to have parents appreciate the fruits of supporting their daughters in school, regardless of the circumstances. We share in contributing to the basic needs of school going beneficiaries in schools, to ease the weight of financial needs that the parents in rural areas would have ordinarily struggled with. This has helped change the way many parents look at their daughters, no longer burdens but children that have potential like any other, to improve the livelihood of a family or society if well equipped with relevant knowledge and skills. We call upon you to join our holistic approach towards girl child empowerment, by donating to our cause. In case you wish to know more about our projects, please do not hesitate to contact us.