|Redressing Gender Inequalities in Education - A Review of Constraints and Priorities in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe (DFID, 1995, 89 p.)|
The importance of educating girls is now widely accepted by most governments and aid donors in Sub-Saharan Africa SSA and confirmed by the World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) in 1990. The considerable private and social benefits of girls' education in terms of health and education are well known and documented. The case has been made for such calculations to be made on wider grounds than 'rates of return' estimates which are, in any event, seriously flawed. Despite this knowledge and experience, there appears to be a lack of political will to push forward educational programmes for girls and women. While governments have formally committed themselves to promoting girls' education, the profound crisis currently affecting the social sectors in SSA, exacerbated by structural adjustment programmes has weakened the translation of gender policies into practice.:
Since the early 1980s, in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, as in many other SSA countries, the overall gap between male and female enrolments at the primary level has narrowed substantially. The gender gap in enrolments tends to widen at secondary and tertiary levels. There has, however, been some absolute decline in primary GERs in both Zambia and Zimbabwe since 1985 due to financial constraints imposed on households by adjustment programmes. Furthermore, overall enrolment statistics disguise serious gender disparities in terms of schooling and literacy found in rural areas. Even in areas where there is enrolment parity between male and female, the education outcomes are poorer for girls. The declining quality of education, along with cost recovery policies in some countries, tends to affect girls more than boys. If parents are faced with a choice of which child to withdraw from school, it will invariably be the girl. Investing in the education of boys is often seen as more worthwhile for social as well as economic reasons.
Substantial progress has been made (especially from the late 1980s) in the development of gender policies for basic education in many developing countries. The main focus of donor attention has been to improve the access and retention of girls in school. Most interventions to redress gender inequalities have addressed 'demand' and 'supply' factors or a combination of the two in 'package' programmes. On the demand side, interventions include: the introduction of bursaries, scholarships and fee waiver programmes, reducing the distance between school and home, and increasing community participation in schools. Commonly adopted supply side policies are: the deployment of more female teachers (especially in science), providing gender sensitive textbooks, and introducing flexible hours. However, the relative merits of these interventions remain unclear in the long run.
At the political level, the following measures have been taken by some governments: creating a more favourable environment to support women and the poor through policy review, adjusting the legal status of women and changing policies on school girl pregnancy (Odaga and Heneveld).
The economic framework of demand and supply has helped in the development of some useful strategies for addressing some of the shortcomings in girls' education in developing countries but it does have limitations. In particular, it cannot adequately explain the complex web of relations between household, community and school. The factors militating against the education of African girls are political, social and economic. The high incidence of teenage pregnancies and HIV infection of girls in both primary and secondary school in all three countries, can only be explained by using a broader conceptual framework that captures the complex interrelationships between class, power and culture as well as economics.
In the absence of such an understanding, gender problems and solutions have tended to be depoliticised and prescriptions often confuse what is desirable with what is feasible. A better understanding of the multiple sources of opposition to gender policies in education by policy makers would enable more effective strategies to be implemented. Priority setting is of central importance.
Another key lesson is that broad based community involvement is essential if the social and political constraints are to be properly addressed. Experiences in South Asia, (the Lock Jumbish project in Rajistan, India, is an excellent example), have demonstrated that significant improvements in educational outcomes for girls are only possible if these projects and other interventions are truly 'owned' and managed by the communities they serve. NGOs have invariably been more effective than state bureaucracies in delivering education that is responsive to the needs of communities. 'Involving the community' has recently become a central theme in some projects in SSA (notably Malawi) that seek to reduce or eliminate gender inequalities in education. If the intention is to empower women, it is clear that there must be affirmative action at all political levels in order to enable their full participation.
The present preoccupation of most aid donors with increasing primary enrolments of girls has tended to marginalise adult education aimed at women in all three countries. If women are to participate fully in decisions affecting their lives they will need to be literate. Consequently, it is essential that appropriate non-formal education programmes for women are supported by both governments and donors.