Education cost me my dowry!
“Educated girls in this region have no market at all. In fact parents do not want their daughters to step inside a class room as this will bring down the value of the girl. However, girls will sometimes go to school when there are free rations which they can then take home to their parents. The unsaid mantra in this case becomes ‘no rations no school’ instead of ‘educate a girl, educate a nation’”
‘Oh but why would the value of an educated girl go down when she has learnt so many things that she can use to support her husband and community’, I innocently asked the young lady who we had found at the district office. This conversation happened during a field trip to Nakapiripirit district in Karamoja region , where Population secretariat staff had travelled to induct district councilors on population and development issues.
“Well, that girl has grown very old, been exposed to so many ‘bad’ cultures and practices and has developed a ‘big head’ so cannot listen to her husband.” On further investigation, I found that the more educated a girl was in the region, the more difficult it was for her to settle back into the community. As a result not many girls have gone for higher education in the region and the few that managed to break this vicious chain, are shunned by society and their mates when they fail to get married soon after. Inspite of the country’s efforts to ensure that ‘children everywhere, boys and girls alike, are able to complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015, achieving Millennium Development Goal two on Education (MDG2) for Karamoja remains a wild dream. With less than three years to 2015, Karamoja region has remained with a static illiteracy rate of 88-90% .
The young woman I was speaking to said she was still unmarried six years after completing her university education and not out of her free will but because she had been shunned by suitors and those that approached her family offered fewer cows for dowry due to the fact that she was very educated. On average the dowry for a young girl in the region was about fifty to sixty heads of cattle and her family was being offered ten to twelve heads of cattle on account of her education and her family could not allow their daughter to go so cheaply.
Ironically, education in the region for both boys and girls has long been contentious. Local folklore has it that in the 1940s, elders in Jie County famously buried a pen to symbolize their disdain for education and modernity. The pen had been used by colonial officers to take down the names of local sons who they took to fight for the British army in the Second World War. Schools were therefore seen as agents for this alien life. Later on in the 1990s, the pen was publically exhumed because it was believed that the burying of the pen had placed a curse on the people.
From the above scenario, you clearly visualize the challenges and barriers that have been posed to education by culture. Efforts towards achieving success in education in Karamoja are affected by a number of hindrances including poverty, poor infrastructure, nomadism or pastoralism, economic activities that occupy children of school going age. This is compounded by a culture that does not encourage girl-child education. Girls are married off very early at about 13 – 15 years, so as to acquire wealth in form of cattle.
As a result this disparity in education levels especially for the girl child has impacted negatively on Uganda’s progress towards achieving the millennium development goals but also improving the livelihoods of its people. I believe this is one of the contributing factors as to why Uganda is still ranked in the bottom third of the world’s poorest countries.
Through education, it has been proven that young people acquire life skills and can be able to improve their health, sanitation, nutrition and even learn about family planning. Sadly this region has a long way to go and needs comprehensive strategies that will tackle the long held beliefs of education as a colonial weapon; the place of a girl as acquisition of wealth. Communities need to be rallied to appreciate education as an enabler for development. Informal education should also be promoted as a strategy to education. This is a strategy that has been used by the region where I come from and it worked.
Inspite of all these challenges, no stone must be left unturned in the name of educating the girl child, if my beloved country Uganda is to develop.