INVESTING IN GIRLS EDUCATION IS SMART ECONOMY
The case of how my best friend and the most intelligent girl in my class was denied her dream of becoming a medical doctor was my first encounter with how social barriers can prevent girl child education. My friend had to abandon her ambition by getting a job and getting married to assist her parents to fund the education of her other siblings. Of course, the rest was history.
My second encounter was my participation in an African wide research conducted by Association of African Women for Research and Development (AWWORD) on Perception of African men and Women about gender equality when majority of respondents admitted that in times of financial difficulty, they will prioritize the education of the boy child. Again, in 2008, when I participated in the writing of the Nigerian Non- governmental organization (NGO) Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Shadow Report, the discoveries I made about the barriers that prevent girls from getting education and the intricate web of social economic factors that are implicated in cementing these barriers were very disturbing.
Girls face many barriers at the point of access, enrollment, retention and completion of their education. Poverty, lack of toilet in schools, inadequate water and sanitation, violence, sexual harassment, burden of cost, child marriage and teenage pregnancy are among the major factors that prevent girls from getting an education.
These barriers were compounded by the austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary fund (IMF) conditionality implemented in the last 20 years. The austerity measures completely wiped out the Nigerian middle class with resultant worst outcomes for the girl child education. In recent times, the World Bank insistence on removal of subsidies from all sectors of Nigerian economy including education has further exposed education to the market assault dealing a debilitating blow particularly to girls’ education.
The inconclusive manner in which the right to education has been framed under our laws has not helped matters. The African charter which is part of Nigerian law guarantees the right to education. The child rights law also guarantees free basic education up to junior secondary school but the Nigerian 1999 constitution almost took the right away by making rights to education a non justice able right, meaning that the right to education is not enforceable in our law courts. This of course could deepen the pervasive gender disparity skewed against the girl child in education.
According to the gender in Nigeria report (2012), Nigeria has more children of primary school age out of school than any other country in the world. The 2009 Nigeria Education data survey also shows that some 1.5 million children (8.1% of children aged 6-14) who were enrolled were not in school at the time of the survey. Girls constitute almost 53% of those not in schools.
The situation of girls education in Northern Nigeria is worse. More than two thirds of 15–19 year old girls are unable to read a sentence compared to less than 10% in the South. Only 4% of females complete secondary school and over half of all women in the North are married by the age of 16 and are expected to bear a child within the first year of marriage.
Notwithstanding these maze of challenges, we still have some best practices that have boosted the girl child education. In Ekiti state, the free education policy of the current government has helped to encourage boys and girls to go to school and reduce the incidence of girls dropping out of school. Even girls who became pregnant in school are allowed to go back to school once their babies are born.
The introduction of School based management committee (SBMC) in some states like Lagos and Kano has boosted the girl child education. The SBMC members who basically are members of the community work with the primary and secondary schools to raise awareness about enrollment and also monitor students to ensure they do not drop out of school.
Other non formal education initiatives have been found to be very useful. Mentoring programs for young girls on women’s right, entrepreneurship, sexuality rights and feminism are initiatives that have boosted the girl child education in Nigeria.
My organization has been mentoring young girls by matching them with accomplished women mentors in the last 3 years. We have trained young women feminist and raise awareness about women’s rights and the rights of the girl child to education.
Evidences abound that providing education to girls will likely reduce social disparities, improve maternal and child health and enhances growth and development. Thus, prioritizing investment in girl’s education is smart economy that will enable Nigeria meet the MDG goal on education, secure her future and set her on the pathway to sustainable development.