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Equal access to learning for both girls, boys key in unlocking continent’s potential

By Biko Rading | October 10th 2020

From Left: Valery Wendy Achesa, Miriam Nyambura and Edwin Amani pupils at   Bridge Academy –Kabiria slum. [Courtesy]                                                                          

As the world celebrates the International Day of the Girl Child under the theme, “My voice, Our equal future,” let’s seize the opportunity to reimagine a better world inspired by adolescent girls – energized and recognized, counted and invested in.

Most girls in developing nations lack access to education that will empower them and future leaders. Without basic education, most of these girls will end up in marriage before their 18th birthday.

A recent World Bank Group study says between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of school drop-outs in the Sub-Saharan Africa region are girls.

Locally, various organisations say lack of awareness, stigmatisation and societal myths on girl child are to blame for teenage pregnancies and early marriages in Kenya.

According to Memory Kachambwa, Executive Director, FEMNET the International Day of the girl child is significant in shining a spotlight on strides made to ensure girls enjoy their rights without discrimination.

“This is a day to celebrate, but also a day to take stock of what still needs to be done to uproot negative social norms and policies that discriminate girls to living a life free from violence, forced marriage, FGM or prejudice. Girls deserve much better and until systemic and structural barriers are removed, the day of the girl child will remain as a day to remind all that girl rights are human rights and we can all do better especially 25 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action was put into force.”

Researchers and human rights activists suggest that the answer lies in improving girls’ access to basic education.
Patrick Lumiti, a father of three children and a resident of Kabiria slum in the outskirts of Nairobi County says the biggest problem facing girls especially those from the informal settlement in Kenya is societal stigmatization.

“Our society still does not see the value of a girl child as an important person in the society and that’s why most of them are never budgeted for in education matters and most of them are reduced to domestic workers which stifle their potential. My child is also a student here,” says Lumiti.

Meanwhile, numerous organizations have partnered with the government to promote girl education across the country.

Bridge International Academies is the world’s leading education innovation organization, delivering improved learning outcomes for primary and nursery children at a low cost.

Over the last decade, the organization has championed for the education of the girl child especially less privileged in the society.

“I believe that an empowered girl child is empowering the community at large. This kind of initiative should be embraced by others to eradicate poverty,” notes Lumiti.

His sentiments are shared by Tony Mwebia, a gender equality advocate in Kenya. “In Africa’s settings access to education is not equal between women and girls as we live in a patriarchal society that values the boys more than girls. In cases of limited resources in families, it’s very likely to have the girls withdrawn from school to allow the boys to proceed with education. As such, to achieve gender equality (SDG5) that we so much yearn for we need to level the playground in terms of accessibility to education when it comes to girls,” emphasizes Mwebia.

Joyce Asenwa, a resident of Kabiria slum and a mother of two girls narrates how her dreams of education were cut short.

“I was not valued when education matters were tabled and since in our culture women’s voices are never taken serious efforts by my mother went unheard, but now that am a mother of girls I will educate them to the highest level possible. Thanks to this institution one of my girls is getting the education for free,” explains Joyce.

As the schools gear up for the re-opening, Valery Wendy Achesa, a pupil of BIA-Kabiria slum is excited that her dream of becoming a lawyer will get back on track.

“Having been born in the slum, I see a lot of girls’ rights violated and no one is speaking up for them and that’s why I am taking up my education seriously intending to become a woman’s right activist to champion the rights of every girl in Africa,” declares Achesa.

The class eight pupil will be sitting for her national examinations early next year and is optimistic about scoring good marks that will earn her an international scholarship.

Achesa adds that “the good thing about Bridge International Academies is that the best students are offered high school scholarships and with my current grades I believe come 2021 I will be among those who will secure the scholarship and my dream will come true.”

Her fellow schoolmate, Miriam Nyambura, who desires to be a journalist shares her vision of transforming the narrative of the girl child.

“Media plays a vital role in educating the society and that’s why once am done with my studies, I will use the power of the media to champion for the right of girls and especially education matters,” notes Miriam.

Amos Khadeji, Bridge Academy-Kabiria Manager said the government should provide sanitary towels and meals for all school-going children.

“If we want to achieve equality in education then we must ensure that the girl child is provided with a sanitary towel to enable them to attend class sessions during their menstrual period. Most girls miss between 3-6 days of class each month and this affects their morale. The other thing as we celebrate the international day of the girl child we must strive to ensure the girl child has access to three meals per day because a hungry child cannot concentrate in class and this affects their performance. We must rethink our education strategies especially the public schools, it should be all-round to better both gender’s performance outcome.”

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