|Defeating Hunger and Ignorance - Food Aid for the Education of Girls and Women (UNESCO - WFP, 34 p.)|
There are several obstacles in providing schooling for girls. The reasons can vary from one region to another, from one country to another, but there are also several common factors: the availability of education on the one hand, and the demand for education on the other hand.
The availability of education
The availability of education is linked to political and economic factors. In several countries, the budget allocated to education is insignificant to begin with, and most of it goes towards the salaries of teachers. There are hence few resources left to increase and/or improve the intake capacity of schools. There is also the lack of legislation protecting girls from various kinds of discrimination such as exclusion in case of pregnancy or blackmail and sexual abuse, including by teachers. Moreover, political instability, social tensions, armed conflicts and the absence of a declared policy to promote the status of women all contribute in blocking the girl childs access to education.
Factors internal to the school and educational system can be another problem. A school environment, often hostile or unappealing, with no special facilities for girls (toilets, a protective wall around the school, etc.) is not conducive to the enrolment of girls. There are other stumbling blocks, less visible but just as pernicious - the stereotypes prevalent in school manuals, discriminatory attitudes in the classroom by teachers, school programmes which do not take the specificity of women into consideration and school time tables and calendars often out of phase with the seasonal rhythms of families and communities.
Clarisse sells firewood and has first-hand experience of an inappropriate school environment
«I was in my first year of primary school when I left school because of an accident that occurred within the establishment. It was during the break. I wanted to go to the toilet, but there were only mixed toilets in the school and all of them were occupied. I went outside and wanted to relieve myself behind a tree. A group of boys turned up and began to make fun of me. I pulled down my dress and started running towards the toilets. But the group of boys followed me, shouting and mocking me as if I was a thief. I finally did find a free toilet. Just as I was coming out of the toilets, the same boys were waiting for me and one of them threw a stone, which hit my left eye. Thats how I became blind in one eye. Do you think the school did something? Nothing. The boy melted into the group and we never could find out who was responsible. My parents paid the school insurance each year, but we didnt even receive any compensation. Today, I sell firewood in the market, whereas I could have continued my studies and become a teacher, as I had dreamed.»
The demand for education
Several factors come into effect when it comes to enrolling a girl in school. They include a host of economic problems, such as high direct costs (school registration fee, various insurances, payment towards parents associations, purchase of school material and uniforms when necessary, clothes, etc.) as well as significant opportunity costs. These consist of loss of parental income when the girl is at school (time lost at school, loss of domestic and agricultural help, loss of income due to the late marriage of an educated girl, etc.). Under these conditions, poor parents often tend to marry off their daughters and send their sons to school.
Socio-cultural factors are amongst the most difficult to confront. These include the perception of the role and status of women in society, the communitys low opinion of female education, the persistence of traditional practices such as initiation rites (excisions, rites of passage which necessitate long periods of seclusion), the wrong interpretation of religious texts, etc.
In a social context where the education of girls is not considered important, priority tends to be given to boys, specially since society continues to think that the role and vocation of the girl is limited to marriage and maternity for which education is considered unnecessary.
In rural areas moreover, parents worry about the security of their daughters because of the huge distances between home and school.
Finally, girls themselves tend to reproduce the traditional female pattern in their society. Often, their aspirations are limited to what they see around them and what traditional society expects of them: to become good wives and mothers. This lack of ambition and the absence of any references other than what they know act as a brake to their education.
Voices from the Gambia
A working woman remembers
«I can remember vividly in the morning when I would wake up and my mother would lay on the tasks for me to accomplish - going out of the compound to get water, sweeping, scaling fish... In the evening, I would go to buy and sell in the market and do all my domestic chores until 7:30 or 8:00. Then I would fall asleep and wake up at midnight to study. To my mother, homework was a waste of time. She would say: «Books in the morning, books in the evening. To hell with books, go to the kitchen.»
A young girl explains how the pressures of domestic work affected her school performance
«During my school days I had to wake up early in the morning and sweep the compound. Then I had to fetch water and pound rice before going to school. Because of all this household work I was often late to go to school and I normally missed some of my lessons. I was sometimes punished by my teacher. I also didnt have some of my required books. This was a very serious problem for me because I had to repeat the last year of primary school. I was very unhappy because all my friends were going to secondary school and I was left behind.»
«I left school in 1987 when I was thirteen and about to sit for the Common Entrance Examination. My parents and aunt pressurised me to give up learning because it is a terrible waste of time for a girl from the rural areas and they could no longer afford the cost to continue my schooling. During this bitter struggle with my parents, they had already decided to give me to a businessman whom I did not want to marry. I knew my parents were doing this to have some financial support to keep us alive but he was not my choice and it was not my choice either to stop going to school.»
Source: Why Gambian Households Underinvest in Education of Girls. Washington, The World Bank, 1995.
Factors determining the under-education of girls
Factors relating to the availability of education
· Institutional and political factors
- The existence of policies tending to exclude girls and women
· School-related factors
- Inadequacy of school infrastructure: absence of toilets for girls or protection fences for schools, etc.
Factors relating to the demand for education
· Socio-economic factors
- Poverty of parents
· Socio-cultural factors
- Low social status of women and negative image of the role of women in society
- Difficulty for educated girls to get married
Source: UNESCO/Forum of African Women Educationalists/The World Bank
The table opposite summarises the two major kinds of obstacles in the education of girls.
The list is not exhaustive, since there are other factors, specific to certain countries. In fact, too often one forgets to take them into consideration and opts for strategies which, unfortunately, turn out to be inappropriate if the causes have not been correctly identified. It is therefore important to examine the situation in any given country before developing a strategy.