Women and girls, especially in developing countries, lag behind men and boys, mostly due to limited education caused by poverty and the beliefs of some communities that educating girls is not important. This, combined with early marriages and high maternal mortality rates, means that such countries struggle to change the quality of lives of their people.
In order to turn around this trend, at the Millennium summit in 2000, world leaders under Millennium Development Goal 5, committed to promote gender equality and empower women by eradicating gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Uganda, being party to this commitment, had already started addressing this with the introduction of universal primary education in 1997 and universal secondary education in 2006. Unfortunately, despite these changes, completing education is still a challenge for many girls, as Susan’s story shows.
Fourteen year old Susan always performed well in school and passed her primary seven examinations. Unfortunately, her father had passed away years ago and her mother remarried and moved away with her new husband. Susan and her siblings were abandoned, left with their aged grandmother, who could barely fend for herself. Upon passing the examinations her uncles and aunties decided Susan should drop out of school and get married to a man they had selected for her. Seeing that they were determined to make this happen, Susan approached Africa Educational Trust’s (AET) school mother in the community who she had heard was an advocate for girl’s education. Her meeting with the AET school mother turned out to be “life-saving” for Susan. The school mother got in touch with AET staff, who contacted a head teacher in one of the partner schools who accepted to take Susan in. Today Susan is a senior two student at Iceme girls school, one of the partner schools of AET. She aspires to be a doctor and from the reports of the head teacher and her class teacher, she is on course to becoming one.
Susan’s situation is not uncommon in rural communities in Uganda, where most people are not aware that under Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, education is a human right. Education has the power to unlock the potential of individuals to address issues such as poverty and maternal mortality. This means education has to be taken seriously and no child should miss out on this gift as it opens the door to the enjoyment of other rights such; civic rights, right to housing, freedom of expression, right to health and to own property, among others.
Susan may have survived early marriage, but other girls her age may not be that lucky. The high rates of early marriage and teenage pregnancy greatly affect the rights of the girl child to attain education. Such communities claim a lack of resources to send all their children to school and use this as a reason for prioritizing the boy child. This does not only disadvantage the girl child but also affects her future family. A woman in her family, in the Ugandan context, assumes many roles, such as taking care of children while the husband is away, going through the child’s homework, nursing the sick and ensuring the general safety and wellbeing of the family. An educated woman can play this role with more knowledge and understanding to support her family.
Uganda today has seen many great women assuming important positions of responsibility; a testimony of the power of education. Women such as Dr. Specioza Wandera Kazibwe and Hon. Rebecca Alitwara Kadaga the very first female Vice president in Sub- Saharan Africa and current speaker of Uganda’s parliament respectively are good examples. I therefore call upon our leaders from the grass roots to the national level to enforce the law to address this deep seated problem, especially in the rural areas. The government has taken initial steps by introducing universal primary education and universal secondary education, which has significantly subsidized the cost of education. However, there is still work to be done in addressing the barriers that prevent girls from getting the chance to complete their education.
Africa Educational Trust is committed to ensuring all persons have access to quality education. Through the BRITE project, Africa Educational Trust is working to ensure that at least 1,700 girls in Oyam and Otuke districts access and remain in school. The project is working to improve enrolment and retention in schools, improving the quality of education through promoting school enterprises and ICT, as well as opening the minds of the students to the broad career opportunities after school through career guidance