Education: Bedrock of women empowerment

-By Funmi Falobi-

Mairo, popularly known as Yanrinya would have loved to become a nurse. She yearned to be educated, in order to fulfil her dream of being a nurse who would work in a hospital, where she would care and treat patients. Unfortunately, her dream never came to fruition.

No thanks to her father, who never saw a reason to educate a female child. To him, any girl above the age of 10 should be preparing to get married or even be in her husband’s house.

“When I was in Primary 4, my father told me to stop schooling. He told me there were suitors who were interested in having me as a wife. This didn’t go down well with me, and so I insisted I wanted to continue schooling. My father would not have it,” Yarinya, the first born of 10 children recounts.

However, due to her insistence and intervention from her father’s boss, Mairo, an indigene of Kano, in Northern Nigeria managed to complete her primary education.
Once she completed primary education, her father then said he had had enough of her in the home.
“I cannot have a girl menstruating in my house like her mother does every month.” Baba Yarinya was fond of saying.

“Of all the intending suitors, many of who were my father’s age mate, I did not find anyone I could relate with. I insisted he should at least allow me finish my Junior Secondary School.
He still refused. He then ordered me to be hawking akara (bean cake) for my mother. After a while, we switched to selling moin-moin.
This I did till I clocked 19. Fortunately, I met a young man I liked. And though today, I am a wife and mother, but I could not pursue my ambition because I did not go to school,” she lamented.

Just like Yarinya, many girls/women are being hindered from pursuing their dreams due to culture, stereotypes, discriminations and biases.

In Nigeria, as found across Africa , many communities still believe that women should be seen and not heard, due to the patriarchy nature in place. Culture and stereotypes still remain great challenges to women/girls education and affecting women in harnessing their full potential in politics, business, family, professions and society at large.

According to a 2020 world bank document on Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment in Nigeria, ” Girls in Nigeria have, in
general, fewer educational opportunities, face considerable health risks due to early and frequent childbearing, have limited access to credit and productive resources, and have poorer labor market outcomes even when gaps in human capital are considered.”

The report further noted that, “women and girls are more vulnerable
to climate change because they depend more on natural resources for their livelihoods, receive less education and are often poorer. These pervasive gender gaps including inequities in health and education, undermine the country’s overall goals related to poverty reduction and economic growth.”

Cultural and religious stereotype also contributes to the problem of girl-child education in Nigeria.

“In Nigeria, there is still the issue of early marriage.
Some cultures believe that girls should be groomed to be wives and mothers, so do not need formal education for these roles.

“We also have the challenge of religion: Religious beliefs that men are more important than women, so men should be more educated,” Franca Okpiaifo, Education Consultant disclosed.

Adding, “When there is insufficient funds in a family, the education of the male child is selected above the female child. Illiterate parents: do not see the importance of a girl child education,” she said.

According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report, worldwide, 129 million girls are out of school, including 32 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age and 67 million of upper secondary school age.

The report also reveals that only 49 percent of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education. At the secondary level, the gap widens: 42 per cent of countries have achieved gender parity in lower secondary education, and 24 percent in upper secondary education.

In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls in non-affected countries.

A recent World Bank study estimates that the “limited educational opportunities for girls, and barriers to completing 12 years of education , cost countries between US$15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.”

According to a recent report, more than 41,000 girls under the age of 18 marry every day. “Putting an end to this practice would increase women’s expected educational attainment, and with it their potential earnings.

The report estimates that ending child marriage would generate more than $500 billion in benefits annually each year.

In Nigeria, 10.5 million children are out of school which is the highest rate in the world according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).The figure indicates that one-third of Nigerian children are not in school, and one in five out-of-school children in the world is a Nigerian.”

The discriminations and stereotypes against women accessing education is evident as there are few women in leadership positions in Nigeria. Research also reveals that when women and girls are educated, nations also benefit as they contribute to national growth.

“You can see a widened gender gap in the society. Less educated women are less willing to embrace family planning. High population of women have lower incomes while girls do not have the requisite knowledge and skills to compete in the labor market. Education empowers women,” Okpiaifo remarked.

‘We need to strengthen awareness about education of women and girls. When people don’t know their rights, it’s a problem. We need to seriously increase the level of awareness in the country. It is not only men that are expected to go to school and make it in life. We will be limited if women don’t go to school,” said Professor Oluwatoyin Osundahunsi, Dean, Agriculture and Agricultural Technology, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA).

The university don explained that there is need for women and girls to know their rights and pursue it.

” We should speak to the right people – the girls themselves. When they are not informed, there is little or nothing we can do. There should be a forum or fora where they will get the means to go to school.

“We need to speak with parents using strong women who are successful in the society.

“Cultural background is another problem. We need a lot of work to do in the society, so that we can reduce lack of education for our girls,” she said.

Consequently, the Professor of Food Science and Technology bemoaned the fact that many girls are not in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics discipline.

“A lot are studying certain courses but we need to speak to them. The number of those in STEM area is always low,” she declared

In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act to domesticate the Convention on the rights of the child which include access to education.So far, 28 states, including Sokoto, have domesticated the Act into law, with nine remaining. The States that have yet to domesticate the Act are Adamawa, Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Yobe, Kano and Zamfara States.

Despite the Act, implementation is still a big challenge in the states to ensure access to education for girls.

“The Act is not an isolated case. The problem we are suffering from is not good policies but implementation; we don’t enforce our policies.

“On the part of government, it should solicit, encourage parents and advocate. Government can render financial support in the are of school uniform, fees, SSCE payment to parents There may be need on the part of the government to enforce. What is the essence of the Act or policy if we are not using it?” The university don queried.

Professor Osundahunsi expressed that the girl child educated today will become educated woman tomorrow urging government to be proactive about it.

Photo credit: GPE/KELLEY LYNCH


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