Factors Affecting Girl Child Education in Sub-Sahara Africa

By Anthony .M. Wanjohi:
There are a number of factors that affect the participation of girl child in education. The major factors highlighted in this article include but may not be limited to socio-cultural, economic, geographical, health and political factors.

Socia-cultural Factors
A major deterrent to girl child education is a near universal fundamental cultural bias in favor of boy child. The widespread operation of patriarchal systems of social organization, of customary early marriage, of the incidence of early pregnancy (in and out of marriage), of heavier domestic and subsistence duties of females (especially in rural areas), a generally lower regard for the value of female life, all combine to adversely affect the participation of girls and women in formal education. To this list may be added problems of seclusion and security in some areas. The influence of this factor can only be overcome by a profound change of attitude on the part of influential males. This may not happen without grass-root and community based approaches initiated by the very community and supported by significant others like government and NGOs.

Economic Factors
Together with the fundamental socio-cultural bias in favor of males, the economic factor, especially in terms of grinding poverty and hunger, is probably the most influential in adversely affecting female participation in education, especially in rural areas. In such harsh economic circumstances, both direct and hidden costs to a family of sending daughters to school are perceived by parents to be prohibitive in terms of the provision of books, uniforms as well as the loss of vital help at home and on the land. In most cases, the contribution of females is unpaid and they may have little or no experience of the handling of money, which further reduces their status and power, but increases their vulnerability. Because of the patriarchal predominance, investment in a girl’s schooling is wasteful since it benefits the family into which a girl marries rather than her own. In the more privileged classes, investment in the education of females may be an advantage in ‘marrying well’. In such classes, the more educated the girl is, the more bridal prize Mzee (the old man – the father) attracts. Otherwise, the girl child is at times viewed a ‘commodity’ with certain economic value.

Geographical Factor
This relates directly to difficulties of physical access, which adversely affect girls more than boys. Patterns of transportation and migration affect educational provision of girl child. Girl child, being the weaker sex, often fall victim of rough terrain and long distances to and from school. In the end, the ‘endangered girl’ child may not be in position to make it through in school. The final result is either dropping out of school or poor academic performance that can not guarantee a bright tomorrow.

Health Factor
In general, the effect of poverty and malnutrition on the health of school age children falls harder on girls than boys. Boys may get preferential feeding, while girls (who have a heavier domestic work load) are more likely to be undernourished. Even if they get to school, this adversely affects their performance and therefore retention rate.

Political/administrative Factor
Although policies exist in most cases for such developments as universal primary education, equal educational opportunities in terms of gender and the eradication of gender bias from texts and other materials, the political will to carry these through seems to be weak in the face of severe economic constraint in most of African Governments. The role of NGOs in gender mainstreaming has markedly been better. However, there is much more that needs to be done.

The biggest challenge in promoting girl child participation in education in Sub-Sahara Africa is how to change the societal female perception in a male dominated Society. This is possible but may take a long period of time. The initiatives can only succeed if they are driven from within (community level) with external support by government and members of local and international organizations.