How to break down the barriers to girl child education
The barriers to girls Education are historical! I will even go further by saying that girls have always faced obstacles since the introduction of formal education in the Gambia compared to boys. Although progress has been made over the years and the gap is shrinking, more still needs to be done in sensitizing people in this regard. A significant portion of this success can be attributed to the Education for All initiative, which was implemented by UNESCO in 2004.
The impediments to girls' education are many, but if I were to attribute it to any major problem, I would say it’s more of a cultural problem than anything else. I want to focus on culture because it drives the customs and social institutions of a country, thereby controlling the mindset and way of life of the people. With that, the relevance of culture in this cannot be overemphasized. Culture governs how people live, think, and behave. Culture generally determines who we are mentally and emotionally and that it also shapes our belief system.
How cultural practices contributes to the barrier of educating the girl child?
Social expectations have been a form of pressure placed on girls in the Gambian context. The traditional family structure values a girl’s role in domestic labour, from cooking and cleaning to caring for younger siblings, especially as they get older. Domestic work in certain family settings can be daunting, and that has prevented so many girls from attending school. When the culture values girls as nothing but marriage material and prepares them for that, then their education becomes secondary. This problem is even more present in rural areas.
And even in the event that a girl is enrolled in school, primary school completion remains a challenge. While the primary school enrolment gap has shrunk, primary school completion is a different story. According to UNICEF, for every 100 boys that complete their basic education in The Gambia, only 74 girls do the same, with the numbers even lower in some areas at 64 percent and 44 percent. At the secondary school level, in The Gambia, the net secondary school enrolment rate is low, to begin with, and girls only constitute approximately 30 percent of all students enrolled in secondary or vocational schools.
What is society's role in breaking the cultural barrier to girls' education?
Arguably, the issues of girls’ education circles back to culture. Both the dropout rates at the primary and secondary levels are generally connected to a traditional family structure that values a girl’s role in domestic labour more than education in certain families and certain regions. I see culture as the biggest hindrance here, and a paradigm shift is needed in this area.
Cultural beliefs have a way of holding society with a tight grip, but with a robust sensitization campaign, we can start to break down the line of thinking that has proven to be a barrier to girls' education. As the backbone of the family unit and keeping players in the economy, women play a critical role. Therefore, it is very important for all of us to join hands and support in the breaking down of the line of thinking that is obstructing girls’ education.
Girls' education provision in The Gambia
Let Us Teach Young Gambian Girls About Female Leadership
I am not one for a beauty pageant, However, I was captivated by Miss Universe 2019, Ms. South Africa Zozibini Tunzi. In the final round of the competition when the 3 finalists were asked the question by Steve Harvey “what is the most important thing to teach young girls today?” the response of Ms. South Africa blew me away.
She said and I quote “the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is LEADERSHIP. It is something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time. Women are the most powerful beings in the world and women should be given every opportunity to take up space. Nothing is as important than to take up space in society”. Zozi has redefined the ideals of beauty in pageantry, has broken the mold and re-written history. She has affirmed that black children’s dreams are valid.
Have you watched the movie “Black Panther”? Don’t you just like the way it views and portrays women. Strong female characters have long played a huge role in the kingdom of Wakanda, as a fierce all-female special forces outfit tasked with protecting the king. We see a powerful superhero only protected by women? Now that’s new. Isn’t it amazing to see King T’Challa conspicuously surrounds himself with women, not just for the convenience, but because these are the people he can TRUST and trusting people as a leader is no small thing.
Now back to reality. In The Gambia we live in a patriarchal society and as a society, we need to do more to teach young girls about leadership, be it in the political, economic, business and social spheres. In all progressive countries, their leaders recognize that gender equality is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing. It makes economic sense as well. However, in a country like ours, achieving gender equality is difficult given some of our cultural and social norms. It is for this reason that young girls from Banjul to Koina need to be taught about leadership and its about time a girl’s leadership and mentorship academy is established in The Gambia. Such a program will build the capacity of young girls and future women leaders to have a much greater impact, build their confidence to compete in the real world as they embark on their career paths. This is one of the ways for young Gambian girls to claim the leadership space in their communities.
Society calls for More Women in Leadership
We want to see more Gambian women stepping up to the challenge of leadership in both the public and private sectors. While impressive strides have been made in terms of gender equality and girls’ education at the primary level in terms of access (quality is still a challenge), we need to advocate for this in secondary and tertiary levels. Women make up half of our population and they must take their rightful place in society. The Gambia must capitalize on the human capital of women who by number alone make up a large pool of potential talent needed to drive the country forward. An aeroplane does not fly on one wing, it needs both wings to fly. Likewise, The Gambia’s development trajectory will be constrained if the other 50% of the population (our women folks are not central to the development process). Of course, certain challenges abound that have held Gambian girls and women back, but these challenges can be further reduced by having targeted mentorship, access to education and other initiatives that encourage more girls to realize their vast potential. The number of women in leadership roles is still too low compared to what it could be, and nurturing growth in this arena will benefit both men and women in The Gambia.
To nurture young girls as leaders we will need our girls to stay in school. #handsoffourgirls. To the old men in our society, please leave our young girls alone and follow women your age. Early marriage is one of the harmful traditions widely practiced in Gambian and African societies. The practice involves the marriage of girls who have not achieved full maturity and lack the ability to control their sexuality. Across Africa, 125 million girls and young women today were married before their 18th birthday, and more than 1 in 3 young women in Africa were married during childhood, and 1 in 10 before their 15th birthday. The consequences of early marriage are enormous in terms of foregone educational and economic opportunities; maternal morbidity and mortality; more limited voice and power within the family and community; life-course and inter-generational poverty transfers. End early marriages, allow our young girls to stay in school and do not condemn them to a life of perpetual poverty.
A combination of community awareness-raising, support for girls’ secondary education, economic strengthening initiatives and legal empowerment for girls and women needs to be considered, but these should be designed with an in-depth understanding of the local culture and context to avoid generating negative or unforeseen consequences.
Education contributes to the increase of female leadership
Education alone is not the only solution, nevertheless, schooling is fundamental to expanding girls’ options. Given that research has found that each and every year of schooling matters, and that secondary school makes the most difference to girls’ power to make decisions, the government need to invest in affordable, quality primary education for all girls and ensure that high school is not seen as an add-on for the wealthy, but a given opportunity for all.
Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women's perspective at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development, and peace cannot be achieved.
The urgency of having more women in leadership positions in The Gambia as in all African countries was alluded to by Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf during an interview to mark International Women’s Day. She was asked:
“If you have just one proposal to share with your colleagues, the Heads of State of Africa, in order to promote a sustainable gender equality process, what will be this one key action?”
Her response was:
“I would propose to my peers to increase the level of women’s participation in leadership roles and decision-making in all levels of society. We need to redeploy energies and resources towards pursuing not only gender equity but women’s participation in decision-making to generate the desired change. But more needs to be done, and this would be my appeal to my fellow Heads of State and Government.”
Let us all support our young Gambian girls to #ClaimThisSpace. Young Gambian girls can be leaders in their chosen career professions. It was Sheryl Sandberg the founder of “Lean In” who said, we should think of a career like a marathon, it is long, grueling and ultimately rewarding. What voices do the men hear from the beginning? ‘You’ve got this. Keep going. Great race ahead of you.’ What do the women hear from day one out of college? ‘You sure you want to run? Marathon’s really long. You’re probably not going to want to finish. Don’t you want kids one day?’
In the not too distant future in The Gambia, we will have a young generation of Zozibini Tunzi with natural beauty, smart, witty, intelligent and bold to take action. We will have strong Wakanda young girls and women who will be trusted leaders (don’t get me started about how male politicians have failed us miserably). We will have strong female characters that will claim their leadership space competitively and not out of tokenism.
I am a believer.
Importance of girls' education
Find out about the benefits and advantages of educating girls.
An equal world is an enabled world for all to thrive
Making up half of the world’s population, women and girls also make up half of the world’s potential. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, it is the bedrock of sustainable development, peaceful societies and notable economic growth.
Despite this, there is still a huge gap in achieving gender equality and creating an enabled world for women and girls. It is therefore important to consistently work towards creating equal access to economic resources for women and girls; access to quality education and health; adequate participation in decision making and putting an end to gender violence.
What does an equal world mean?
An equal world is one in which there is equal and easy access to opportunities and resources, economic participation and decision making for both genders. This is a world in which the differences in needs, behaviours and aspirations of both genders are valued equally and girls, women, boys and men are treated equally at all levels of society.
What is an enabled world?
An enabled world makes things possible for girls and women. It equips them with the tools and resources to be able to do a particular thing and makes the achievement of their dreams easier. It is a world that gives permission or right to women and girls to pursue those opportunities readily available to make their desires come to reality. Both genders are equipped for success in an enabled world.
How to create an equal world
In order to create gender equality, it is important to talk to women and girls. The voices of women and girls are not heard in both global and national decision making. By talking to them and making their voices heard, we are one step closer to an enabled world.
It is also necessary to put an end to child marriage and sexual harassment permanently. Early marriage continues to truncate the dreams and futures of many girls, as well as sexual harassment and the ensuing stigma.
It is also important to make education gender sensitive. This can be done by increasing access to education and promoting gender sensitivity and positive gender stereotypes. By the same token, mothers need to be educated and empowered so that they can in turn empower their daughters.
Proper value has to be given to the unpaid work, women and girls do. Likewise, the media needs to highlight this more. More women need to be in leadership position so that they can become change agents by being active participants at the local, regional and national levels.
Not only this, women and girls need to be encouraged to go into non-traditional vocations to help break social taboos. Lastly, it is important to work hand in hand with women and girls to end violence, reduce backlash and bridge the gap of gender inequality in order to create an equal and enabled world.
Achieving an equal world for all
In all parts of the world, there are notable discriminatory laws which prevent women from fulfilling their potentials by limiting their ability to work, thereby reducing their economic security and confidence.
On average, women have only three-quarters of the employment rights available to men. It is important to note however that increasing the participation of women in the labour market and giving equal employment rights has major economic benefits. In an ideal world of gender equality, there is no violence against women and girls. This in turn makes the society healthier and enhances overall well-being. The result is more peace.
World economy will also take a positive boost. Some countries like Canada have recorded sharp increases in their GDP when they put strategies in place to advance gender equality. In terms of business, gender diversity in leadership roles improves business performance. Between 15 and 35% increase in financial returns is predicted for companies with the highest levels of diversity (gender, racial or ethnic).
When household work is shared, relationships tend to work better and people are happier. By eliminating gender imbalances surrounding unpaid housework and childcare, the gender wage gap reduces and the likelihood of divorce drops.
Lastly, an equal world makes the lives of children better. When both parents are involved in childcare, gender role stereotypes are broken and children are encouraged to think critically about gender stereotypes, which in turn helps them master the skills to maintain healthy, equal relationships in the future, thus continuing the cycle of an enabled world.
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Barriers and obstacles to girls education
Find out why girls find it difficult to access and stay in school. Click the link to read more about the challenges that girls face to access education in The Gambia
Budgeting for Children Education and it's Impact to Girls' Schooling
In simple terms, ‘child budgeting’ is not about lining up children and placing cash in each and every child’s hands. Rather ‘child budgeting’ is about putting national resources – money, materials, services, facilities, institutions and personnel – to sectors that address the needs of children. But why do we have to advocate for ‘child budgeting’?
In the first place, children, just as all other citizens, have a right to development. But more than that is the fact that children are the products of society without their consent. No child asked to be born. Hence those who produce children bear the highest obligation, morally, legally and politically to take care of those children. It was Nelson Mandela who noted that the true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children. Hence society has an indubitable duty to protect and develop children which is directly linked to the survival, strength and security of society itself.
Children have rights like all human beings which must be recognized and respected. Thus, it is the government, parents and adults who are the duty bearers who must fulfill the rights of the child. Child rights essentially relate to the promotion and protection of the welfare and development of the child, as well as ensuring that the child is able to participate in family, societal and national affairs. If the saying that children are the leaders of tomorrow, then this means that the existence and development of society cannot be divorced from children.
All national and international laws and policies have affirmed that children have rights, and their development is primarily a governmental duty. A former UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy once noted that, “A century that began with children having virtually no rights is ending with children having the most powerful legal instrument that not only recognizes but protects their human rights.” Hence the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child noted in Article 4 that,
“States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.”
A review of these domestic and international laws would indicate that child budgeting is a requirement, a and should be used as a means to the fulfillment of the rights of children and be understood in the context of national budgets. Many people do not realize that the most important tool of a government is not the police, army, roads, natural resources, electricity, offices or vehicles, etc. The most powerful tool for a government is the BUDGET!
The budget is about the income or revenue that a government makes out of our taxes, rates, service charges, royalties, loans, grants and donations that it receives from diverse sources and how it plans to spend that money. It is from the budget that a government funds all its operations, builds roads and hospitals, pays salaries and all office operations, and even pays for the travels that the President and members of the Government undertake. Hence, what is not put in the national budget is not therefore a priority for the Government. Therefore, if the issue of children is not topmost in the minds of the people who make the national budget, then it means that they will prepare a budget that will not allocate money to sectors that serve children.
Focusing on the 2020 national budget, only 4.3 billion dalasi will be allocated to the key child sectors of education (D2.6B) and health (D1.5B) out of a total national budget of 21.3 billion dalasi. This represents only about 20% or one-fifth of the national budget. Is this enough to build Gambian children to truly become empowered and responsible adults who could effectively lead and sustain this country today and tomorrow? That is a question for us all.
For the moment the state of Gambian children leaves much to be desired even though the country has made gains in universal primary education and immunization. Recent studies have identified key challenges in the education sector these include the following:
These are challenges that directly undermine the growth and development of children hence threaten the overall growth and development of The Gambia today and tomorrow. Meantime 7.7 billion dalasi will be spent on debt servicing in 2020 alone! One wonders, where did all of those millions of dollars of loans go to while the country remains highly indebted and poor?
It is in light of the above that the need to advocate for child budgeting is urgent and necessary. It is time to make sure that policy makers, lawmakers, politicians, leaders in all categories and citizens in general understand a budget and also know what is child budgeting and why it is so important. In a broader sense, child budgeting also addresses and fulfills gender and pro-poor budgeting as well. They all refer to the need to have the Government spend more resources in the social services so that people can have their needs met.
When we talk about social services, we refer to education, healthcare, water and electricity supply and skills development. These are opportunities and facilities that will enable children to grow and develop themselves with the right mindset, ability and dignity to become true leaders, inventors, creators and producers of today and tomorrow. Child budgeting is therefore an investment in children hence investment in the future and continued growth and overall development of society. Thus a proper child, gender and pro-poor budget is the bedrock for national development.
Having a child-friendly budget however is not the end of the story. The next step is the monitoring of the budget to ensure that it is properly utilized. All citizens including children should therefore know how to track budgets. This is not merely a question of being an activist; it is a matter for every citizen to become vigilant in order to hold the Government accountable.
The foundation for development and performance is accountability. It is only through accountability that we can know whether resources are being used properly or misused; whether we are making progress or failure; whether public institutions and officials are doing their jobs rightly or wrongly and effectively or are lazy. Without accountability, standards fall, corruption becomes the order of the day and provision of social services collapse and everyone gets miserable because cost of living goes up while people are denied opportunities such as good facilities and quality services that they have already paid through their taxes.
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Why girls find it difficult to access and stay in school.
Do we want to eradicate global poverty? Give girls access to schooling because educated women usually participate more in the labour market, tend to be healthier, marry later and have fewer children, says the World Bank. This line of argument just moves my moral-o-meter, if that’s even a word, to the red! I think we should never substitute a human rights argument into an economic one. Girls should be given access to schooling equally as boys because it is their right. It is as simple as that.
The UN recognises this fact when it called for quality education for all by 2030. However, this is no mean feat and there is a myriad of barriers to achieving this goal. This is the purpose of this blog; to identify the obstacles to girls’ access to education in developing countries, especially in The Gambia. The Gambia will not achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) number four – Quality Education - if it does not recognise and remove the obstacles it faces.
Here are 5 of the challenges in girls’ access to education that The Gambia needs to rectify if it is to achieve SDG 4: Quality Education by 2030:
1. Being the ‘wrong’ gender.
In a report outlining the status of gender disparities in The Gambia education system, it indicates that the country has so far achieved gender parity at the Lower Basic level of education . A slight disparity can be found at the upper basic level and a further increased disparity at the senior secondary level. As a result, only 25% of girls complete senior school compared to 32% of boys. This figure widens significantly in rural areas. We do know that gender stereotypes are still resilient in the division of labour within the household in The Gambia, particularly in rural areas. These stereotypes must be removed or the domestic workload on girls and women offset by labour-saving devices.
These stereotypes are usually ingrained into our Gambian psyche that it is carried, and practiced, outside of our borders. For instance, in the UK, where both a Gambian male and female generally do the same amount of work, women usually find that domestic chores are primarily left to them. A Gambian woman is expected to work and earn some income for the family and also expected to do most of the domestic chores and look after the children too if there are any. How, then, can the Gambian girl excel in education if these heavy gender stereotypes are placed on her wherever she goes?
2. The expense of education
The right to attend school is a basic human right and in The Gambia, there is a free lower and upper basic school for every child no matter what their financial circumstances are. However, for many families in the Gambia, education remains expensive. The poorest families are left to find the extra cash for compulsory items like uniforms, books and other stationery items, and pay exam fees. Some are even asked to pay to maintain the school building. It is therefore clear that the burden of education is heavier on the poorest than their affluent counterparts. Consequently, poorest families are forced to decide which, or how many of their children are sent to school.
However, there are schemes designed to help alleviate these extra expenses with the support of UNICEF. One of these is the Mothers’ Clubs (a community-led advocacy group), which, among other things provide support for children’s education, especially girls. Although this programme has some visible impacts on the enrolment rate and retention of girls, it has limitations such as mobilisation and management. This limits the number of girls they can reach and prevents timely intervention.
3. Distance from home to school
Many a times the distance between home and school are so far apart that it is off-putting for families of girls because of safety concerns, especially if the family was reluctant to let their daughter attend schooling in the first place. However, the donkey “school busses” are helping in allaying parents’ concerns that their children can get to and from school safely.
Although the Gambia government has increased the number of communities that have schools within three kilometres to 95% in 2018, there are still some communities where girls have to endure a very long walk to school under the blistering sun.
4. Scarcity of trained and qualified teachers
Shortage and effectiveness of teachers are the most important predictors of not only girls’ education, but student learning in general. Around 69 million new teachers are needed to achieve universal primary or secondary education. As a result, girls are not receiving a proper education. One of the policies that are common among policy-makers, and which is widely adopted and recommended, is that of recruiting more female teachers to teach girls. This is because there is some evidence that in developing countries, learning for girls increases when they are taught by a female teacher relative to male teachers. This seems like a paradox, or at least difficult to achieve in the case of The Gambia. If fewer girls are completing secondary and tertiary education, then where will the government find the adequate number of female teachers to recruit, train and retain? Female qualified teachers in public schools constitute 37.3, 23.8 and 11.1 per cent in lower basic, upper basic and senior secondary school respectively. It is lower in private schools.
In its Education Sector Strategic Plan 2016 – 2030, the Ministries of Basic and Secondary Education and Higher Education Research Science and Technology pledges to continue to monitor teaching quality in all public lower and upper basic schools and also to provide tailored support to those that fail to meet the required teaching standards. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this supervisory role by the ministry is yet to produce the appropriate number of high-quality teachers for girls.
5. Menstrual hygiene at school
Menstruation is another key pressure point for girls' education in The Gambia. A lack of hygienic and gender-separated bathrooms in many schools, especially in the rural Gambia can disrupt a girl’s ability to participate in school. Furthermore, teasing from classmates, unsupportive male teachers and access to sanitary materials can prevent girls from attending school during their menstrual period. There are many girls in The Gambia, and around the globe, who feel embarrassed and shameful simply because they are on their period.
It is common for girls to rather stay at home than attend school during those few days of their menstrual cycle. Few days that could make all the difference in studies, revision and assessment preparation. There is more that needs to be done for girls to understand what is happening to their bodies. First, we must talk about menstruation so that it can be normalised. Then, copying South Africa, The Gambia must abolish taxes on sanitary products to make it cheaper and thus, make it widely available. In this day and age in The Gambia, menstruation should not stop a girl from attending school. Unfortunately, it does.
If this new and prosperous Gambia that everyone talks about is to be truly realised, the country must unleash its full potential by making sure that all barriers to girls’ education are removed across the entire country, not just the urban areas. Only then can the nation fully make the most of its best resource; its people.
The SaGG Foundation (Sponsor a Gambian Girl) is a girl’s education movement, with aim of championing the cause for girl child education in The Gambia. Education is a basic human right; our vision is to advocate and pair up girls with sponsors.
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