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
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 champion for girls' education.