Kenya, Give the Girls a Chance
Although education is globally acknowledged as an essential human right, generally many girls have been locked out of educational systems in their respective communities. In Africa for instance, many women have missed attending school, in comparison to their male counterparts because of various reasons. In fact according to the United Nations, it is estimated that more than 40 per cent of women in Africa do not have access to basic education.
The greatest challenge that women in Kenya face in their efforts to access formal education is the restrictive traditional roles that have become a culture in most their societies. The gender roles that define the African woman in accordance to social and cultural expectations have a major impact on the ability of many Kenyan women to be empowered through education. The unique forms of discrimination that these women face are a result of the restrictive cultural norms of the communities that raise them. The so much publicized poverty that women in Kenya, and Africa in general, face is also a product of these traditional roles of women and hence the inability of their sisters and daughters to attend school.
Despite the outlined challenge, there are many other barriers that have hindered Kenyan women from attaining basic education. The lack of prominent and reliable role models in most communities in Kenya has been a major setback to young girls. These girls may have the zeal to excel in life through academics but they get no reason to work so hard or even pursue education to higher levels because every elderly woman in their community is a miserable housewife. These girls end up dropping out of school at a tender age because even their own mothers find no value in educating them at a marriageable age.
In communities that are deeply rooted in myths of witchcraft, women have been discouraged from attending school. This is because in such communities the people do not believe in economic and social empowerment of the members for the fear of being bewitched to death or eternal suffering. Women in such communities have been rendered timid and therefore have no power within each individual to rise to their feet through education and be recognized as outstanding members of those communities.
Although there is free primary school in Kenya, but poverty is still a great barrier in the efforts of many young girls attaining education. In a home where parents have to do manual labor each day to afford one meal each day, there is no way these parents can sacrifice money for meals to purchase sanitary pads every month for their teenage girls. The fact that the menstruation comes every month means that these girls are forced to miss school for the entire period that they are having the periods every single month. This is because they fear the embarrassment that comes with stained clothes because of inefficient or the complete lack of something to use to prevent the leaking of menstrual blood. When the absenteeism from school becomes habitual, sometimes these girls are tempted to drop out of school because of embarrassment and being left behind in school syllabus. These girls go to look for manual labor so as to afford the sanitary pads, and then they probably get married and give up on schooling.
It is also because of poverty that some girls have opted to drop out of school to take care of their siblings as their parents go out to look for labor in order to afford to feed these families. Most communities in Kenya believe that it is a woman’s responsibility to take care of children and cook and therefore in the absence of the mother, the young girls are socially expected to take over the motherly duties.
Women in Kenya have also not been well represented in leadership positions and therefore the barriers that hinder young girls from attaining education have been ignored to a large extent because there is no voice loud enough to articulate them. Very few women are bold enough to compete with men for elective positions in Kenya. Without many women in parliament, for example, the barriers hindering girls cannot be considered as an issue of national importance.
Through research on behavior change communication and civic education in my immediate community, I have been able to advocate for the education of the girl child in Kenya. My community has also benefited from my talks on backward cultural practices that hinder girls from attaining admirable social status through education.
I am encouraged to advocate for the full implementation of comfortable free primary education of the Kenyan girls when I read through the provisions of UNESCO’s convention against the discrimination in education (1960), the convention on the rights of the child (1989), and education for all action (2000).