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Female Education: Assessing and Overcoming Social Setbacks Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Mbũrũ, Kenya May 12, 2005
Education , Civil Society   Opinions
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Educating a woman, so goes the mantra, is liberating a nation. However, when the social imbalances favour only one group at the expense of the other, the implications are usually sad and sometimes irreversible. Over centuries, women have been relegated to ‘non-human’ status in terms of their participation in the nation’s development. Gender inequalities have been naturalized yet structured by the social systems of a society, including political and economic practices. Where, then, has the voice of women and girls, being important elements in social participation, been bent?

According to Njoki Wainaina of African Women’s Development and Communication Initiative (FEMNET), gender training involves challenging structures that have existed for centuries. She adds that this involves challenging power relations that affect people at personal, family, community and national levels. She concludes by saying “it can be a very threatening exercise”.

For a long period of time, the status of women has been that of a passive rather than an active member of the society. This passiveness is witnessed in gender-biased decisions which do not call for a vote, views on who is to have which part of a chicken, or regulations requiring a written consent from a male relation when a woman is applying for a bank loan, national identity card or passport. Since education is the liberator of women right from the classroom, how has it, at the same time, been an impediment?

Kenya’s culture, like in many African states, explains the fate of a woman as pre-determined – she either goes up to standard four or remains illiterate. If she happens to be educated, then she is brainwashed and scatterbrained! Perhaps to elaborate this further, one ought to look at Professor Wangari Maathai. Being the first Kenyan woman to win the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, many could not fail to ask why she does not have a male partner, at least in the public domain, for her to be complete. As woman, mother, professor, Member of Parliament and an Assistant Minister, it was argued that she was still incomplete without a Mr. Somebody by her side. Ignorant and shameless, others posited that she won the prize out of mercy and not because she deserved it, especially for championing against environmental degradation.

Another woman who we should not over look is Charity Ngilu. She was the first woman in Kenya’s history to declare her candidature for the presidency. Though she did not make it, she will forever remain entrenched in the history books. After her declaration, as usual, one reputable newspaper had a caricature of a woman president going for a maternity leave carried in a stretcher urging Kenyans “mkae vivyo hivyo”.

Looking at the performance of females academically, the statistics are sad and gloomy. The research conducted in 1994 by Welfare Monitoring Survey II shows that the Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) in primary schools for males and females was 95.4% and 92.2 % respectively while for secondary was 28.21% and 23.71% respectively. On the other hand, the Net Enrolment Rates (NER) gives a wider gender gap in primary and secondary schools. Females in primary schools accounted for 68.47%, while males in the same level convey a 69.32%. In secondary school, females averaged 11.13% while males were at 12.03%.

Although there is not a major gap in terms of gender, primary school dropout in 1999 was 4.9% with the girls’ rate at 5% and boys at 4.8%. The highest rate was recorded in Standard Seven while the lowest in Standard Eight. Repetition rate in this level in the same year was 13%, the majority being girls. In secondary schools an average of 10% of boys repeated between Form One and Form Four, the highest being recorded in Form Four (at 3.3%), while the lowest was recorded at an average of 0.8% in form one. Girls repetition averaged to 1.5% between Form One and Form Four, while the highest repetition was recorded in Form Four (at 0.9%) However, the dropout rate for boys and girls stood at 4.6% and 5.1%, respectively. The highest dropout stood at 6.2% and 6.6 % for boys and girls respectively in Form Two. The total percentage of girls who completed secondary school between 1993 and 2000 was 76.8%, while for boys it was 80.9%.

In a nutshell, the challenges which stagnates girls education in Kenya are:

1. Lack of role models especially in schools which are rural-based. The only and few role models in these settings are teachers, some of whose behaviour is wanting. These may be sex perverts, drunkards, polygamists and wife batterers, who would not make good role models. The few who are looked up to, face opposition from their colleagues. In another report, gender shares in primary school between 1989 and 1998 was disproportionately provided. In 1998, for every five male teachers there were two female teachers. An Action Aid Kenya report, puts forth that pupils were nurtured by fewer female teachers while girls were exposed to an insufficient number of female role models, with schools being portrayed as largely as a male-dominated encounter.

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Writer Profile

I am a researcher on educational issues especially in the rural areas, with much emphasis on girls' education.

As a trained journalist, I have a lot of concern with the handling of the education sub-sector in Kenya and take a critical role in viewing the reforms currently being conducted to integrate education structures for the sake of the youth in Kenya.

One major aspect, sadly, is that Kenya has been sovereign for over four decades but has been the only African country besides Somalia not to have made education compulsory, free and basic. For Somalia it can be understood - the country had been in civil strife since 1992- but for Kenya the politics of the day have played a negative role in reducing the promotion of education to a system sheer competition, instead of progressive

Apart from that, I write fictitious literature.
Currently I am working on prose on love and betrayal and a collection of poems.
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