Africa Day at Cornway College Junior School in Zimbabwe. The day commemorates the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Give the girl child a chance
October 25, 2013
Opinion & Analysis
Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” It is a fundamental human right needed to exercise all other human rights. Education is crucial for fighting gender inequality and overcoming the many challenges faced by women and girls around the world. Yet millions of girl children are still denied their right to education.
On October 11, the world celebrated the International Day of the Girl Child with the theme “Innovating for Girls’ Education”. But, before we can innovate, we need to get the basics right first.
The Sadc Gender and Development Protocol, which all Sadc countries have signed except for Botswana and Mauritius, requires that by 2015, member states enact laws that promote equal gender access to, and retention in primary, secondary, tertiary, vocational and non-formal education.
It also requires governments to adopt and implement gender sensitive educational policies and programmes addressing gender stereotypes in education and gender-based violence.
According to the 2013 Sadc Gender Protocol Barometer, besides Lesotho and Seychelles, women in Southern Africa still have lower literacy levels than men. Less than half of the 15 Sadc countries have achieved gender parity at all educational levels. So far, Botswana, Malawi, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have achieved 50 percent or more girls in primary education.
However, secondary education is not compulsory in any Sadc country, and free education at secondary level is uncommon, thus dropout rates remain high despite many countries reaching parity. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) girls make up only 36 percent of secondary school learners; 44 percent in Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola, with 45 percent in Malawi.
Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia are the only six countries in the region with higher percentages of women at tertiary level than men. Mauritius at 61 percent is the country with the highest proportion of women at this level. The DRC, with 26 percent women has the lowest proportion of women in tertiary education.
Numerous factors hinder girls’ enrolment, retention and performance at different levels of education in Southern Africa.
Cultural practices such as child marriage remain a major challenge. Girls forced into early marriage are at greater risk of gender-based violence and early pregnancies. This compromises their education as well as their health. About one third of all young women are pregnant by the age of 16 and they usually have the sole burden of taking care of the child.
Furthermore, cultural and traditional beliefs place less value on girls’ education. This often means girls remain at home either doing chores or taking care of the elderly and ill. In child-headed households girls are often the main caregivers and breadwinners especially with the increase of HIV and Aids.
Child abuse, gender-based violence and sexual harassment in schools and tertiary institutions perpetrated by teachers and peers continue to affect girls’ education in Sadc. Besides Seychelles and Mauritius, all other Southern African countries report high rates of gender-based violence and sexual abuse in their education facilities.
There is also an absence of women in decision-making positions in schools. Female school principals comprise 44 percent in Mauritius; 37 percent in Seychelles and a mere 6 percent in Tanzania. It is crucial that girls and women have a say in how education and empowerment can best serve their needs and wants. Moreover, gender parity in teaching services will contribute to gender sensitive curricula and school policies.
In addition, conflict, poverty and lack of service delivery, especially adequate sanitation has a direct impact on girls’ attendance and performance at school. This shows that we cannot address education without simultaneously addressing other social ills that limit access and reduce quality education.
Despite all these challenges, girls in the Sadc region are mostly outperforming boys in primary and secondary education. It is clear that if we provide the basics, mainstream gender in the current system and address all the problems effecting girls’ education, the possibilities for improvement and innovation are endless.
Investing in and prioritising girls’ education not only benefits development, economic growth, life expectancy and health, but will also encourage future women leaders and drivers for global change. An educated girl is a proactive citizen and pillar of strength in her home, community and country. We must give the girl child a chance to success and an opportunity to wield a weapon to change the world. – Gender Links.
Gogontlejang Phaladi is a philanthropist, youth ambassador, motivational speaker, activist, writer and founder of the Pillar of Hope Project.