We are paying a high price for neglecting girls’ education

While Kenya’s enrolment rates for primary school are currently commendable, it is time to focus on communities where, as girls grow older, their education is often seen as an unnecessary luxury.

Education of girls, or more precisely failing to take girls to school, is now no longer just a cultural nuance especially in Africa because recent data is showing that society – both men and women - is paying a very high economic price for not giving girls the same choices and opportunities in education.

The young girl of today has higher ambition and a more competitive spirit. She no longer wants to go to school and only proceed to either the submissive housekeeper role, or token employment opportunities like her mother very likely did.

She wants a secure, equal-wage job like her male classmates, to have an equal opportunity to making it to management positions, and access to economic assets such as land and loans. Like her male counterparts, she wants equal participation in shaping economic and social policies in the country.

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However, what we have today is an economy where, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics only about a third of Kenyans in formal employment, are women.

It is estimated that the return on one year of secondary education for a girl correlates with as high as a 25% increase in wages, and that ensuring that all girls get at least secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa, would reduce child marriages by more than half.

Girls who stay out of school especially in their teen are at great risk.  The statistics are worrying: one in every five adolescent girls has either had a live birth, or is pregnant with her first child. Among the 19-year olds, this doubles to two out of ten. Kenya Demographic Health Survey estimates that 18 % of girls aged 15 – 19 become pregnant every year in the country.

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Although early marriages are not prevalent in my county of Nyandarua, teen pregnancy is on the rise. According to a 2014 survey on Nyandarua County, 1 in 10 (10%) of girls aged 15-19 years had begun child bearing and adolescent birth rate at 48 births per 1000 girls.

We also have a worrying trend, where 0.5% of girls drop out of school due to rape related cases.

SEE ALSO: Circumcised minor tortured by caregivers to 'harden' him

As a country, we have much work to do, with figures showing that about half of Kenyan women only have primary school education. This means that their potential for participating in socio-economic processes is hampered, and their families are almost assured to spend their futures struggling economically.

One pernicious feature of gender inequality is that it feeds on itself; parents may have lower aspirations for their daughters than for their sons, and so their daughters too have lower aspirations for themselves.

Unfortunately, despite apparent modern sophistication, many of our homes continue to operate with practices and beliefs that largely keep girls out of classrooms and women away from the formal workplace. 

These are practices that are meant to keep girls and women on a leash.  And they find expression through outdated traditions such as early marriage and female genital mutilation.

Ironically, there are many households where the same girls are expected to take up an economic activity so as to help put food on the table. Due to poverty in Nyandarua, many girls are often forced to labour in farms and households at the expense of their education.

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In a 2014 survey, 4% of women aged 15-19 in Nyandarua reported that they were circumcised.

The 2030 Agenda has pledged to leave no one behind.  Specifically, SDG 5 is about “Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls”.  If we do not prioritise the education of girls, all our dreams about Vision 2030 will turn into a life-long nightmare.

Ms Cecilia Mbuthia is the Deputy Governor, Nyandarua County

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educationgirls educationearly pregnancy