Religion, Gender, and Education in Africa: Confronting Inequality in the 21st Century By Mary Nyangweso ([email protected]
) Gender inequality in education is more of a reality in Africa where the ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary school has increased. With more than 49 million girls out of primary and secondary school in the sub-Saharan Africa and 31 million out of secondary school, the inequality is significant. Studies indicates that of the 758 million adults without basic literacy, women account for two-thirds of them and that 27% of illiterate adults are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Almost 60% of the youth between ages 15-17 are currently not in school with one-fifth of children ages 6-11 out of school. According to the UNESCO report of 2018, a small country like South Sudan has 2.2 million children that are out of school, the highest rate in the world. And that 70% of the poorest girls have never attended school, with the situation reported to be dire in countries such as Niger and Guinea. This chapter highlights gender inequality in education and describe obstacles to women and girls access to education. It is argued that gender inequality in education must be examined within the social-cultural and religious context. To confront gender inequality, Africans must reflect on the socialization process.
Gender Inequality and Education in Africa To understand the relationship between gender and education in Africa, it is important to interrogate gender relations and how these are constructed to influence attitudes and behavior towards education. Social inequality, a reality in African communities, is a significant determinant of education status. Gender inequality in education is a reality that Africa has and continues to confront in the 21st century. Data indicates that of the 758 million adults without basic literacy, women account for two-thirds of them and that 27% of illiterate adults are in Sub-Saharan Africa. 23% of the girls are out of school compared to 19% of boys. At adolescent, this rate increases to 36% for girls and 32% for boys. 114 of the illiterate population were between the age of 15-24. Almost 60% of the youth between ages 15-17 are currently not in school with one-fifth of children ages 6-11 out of school. In South Sudan alone, 2.2 million children are out of school children in the world (UNESCO, 2018). Despite noted substantial enrollment increases in Sub-Saharan Africa, 22% of sub-Saharan school-age population are not in school (UNESCO, 2014). Women continue to
face challenges with regards to access to basic education. There are still about 17 million girls out of school in Sub-Saharan Africa. 9 million of adolescent girls will never get a chance to read and write. (UNESCO, 2017). In countries such as Central African Republic, Chad and Angola, half as many girls as boys were in secondary school in 2012. According to a Gender Report compiled by UNESCO’s EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR) for International Day of the Girl Child, gender inequality is still a major problem in both primary and secondary education and that this inequality is severe in countries such as Chad. Poverty which is pervasive across Sub-Saharan Africa is a significant factor as most people who live on less than $1 a day find themselves with inability to pay school tuition not to mention the cost of uniform, and transport to school (Ombati and Ombati, 2012:118). According to GMR and the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, the poorest girls are the most at a disadvantage. In some countries such as Guinea and Niger, 70% of the poorest girls have never attended school. Those in the hardest to reach regions on the continent are most affected and they include girls form nomadic and pastoral communities or those who are marginalized such as those with disabilities, street children and orphans (UNESCO, 2014). In a continent with one of the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy, Africa must confront this social challenge if the future of many girls on the continent is not to be jeopardized. Access and long-distance walks to and from school complicate the already dire situation. Drawing from this background, this chapter highlights how gender inequality in education is a consequence of gendered social ideals and practices to argue that gender inequality is education can be confronted effectively when the culture and religious values that construct and undermine attitude and behavior towards girl education are addressed. I recognize the risk of generalizing about the unique experience of the African women when speaking about Africa as a homogeneous continent. However, as Margot Badran (2011) aptly explains, to speak about Africa in general terms is not always a bad thing. It is a way of recognizing the cross-continental cultural and religious connections and experiences that are often
overlooked in specificities. After all, divisions in Africa are simply based on fictional colonial boundaries that have also undermined cross-continental connections and possible collaboration opportunities. Indicators of gender inequality in education translate into economic and other social inequalities. For instance, while women in Africa are economically active as farmers, workers, and entrepreneurs – than elsewhere in the world, they face an array of barriers that inhibit full potential. In the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, women represent only 15% of landholders. In some counties, like Mali, only 5% of women are landholders (Africa Development Bank Group, 2015:11). While they makeup two-thirds of the agricultural labor force and produce most of Africa’s food they have less access to essential inputs like and, credit, fertilizers, new technologies, and extensions services. As a result, their yields are significantly lower than men’s. In Ethiopia, for instance, female farmers produce 26% less than their male farmer's counterparts. In Ghana, women produce 17% less than men. Further, customary land tenure systems widely exclude women from land ownership or control. Although these women are highly entrepreneurial, and own a third of all business across Africa, up to a high of 62% in countries lite Cote d’Ivoire, most of their run microenterprises are in the informal sector with only 15% of formal sector firms having a woman as a managing director (African Development Bank Group, 2015:, 11). In Kenya, for instance, while women own 48% of micro and small enterprises, they only access 7% of the credit. In a world where economic empowerment defines successful lifestyle, economic disempowerment is a fatal blow to gender equality and self-realization of African women. Gender inequality in education is impacted by obstacles such as poverty, geographical isolation, minority status, disability, early or child marriage and pregnancies. Other factors include gender-based violence lack of access and school drop-out. Challenges to girl child education include early / teenage pregnancies, school dropout and exclusion of females from schools for among other reasons cultural and religious reasons across the continent. In Kenya for instance, 378,379 adolescents aged between 10-19 3
were impregnated between July 2016 and June 2017 and a total of 28,932 were aged between 10-14 while 349,465 were between 15-19. In fact, a UNFPA official noted that there were high rates of pregnancies are a burden to the nation (Atieno, 2017). Teenage pregnancies are attributed to child marriages as well as touts, boda-boda operations, disco matanga as in the case of Kilifi and Mombasa. With over 40% unintended pregnancies in Kenya teenage pregnancy should be taken as a serious problem that is destroying lives. Alongside these pregnancies are abortions, with some attempted ones leading to death of the victims. Approximately 14% pregnancies end up in abortion, often by unskilled people who performed them in unsanitary conditions. Unsafe abortions result in 2600 death of women and girls annually (Mumah et al, 2014; Migiro, 2011). Counties mostly affected in Kenya are Narok, Homa Bay, West Pokot, Tana River and Nyamira. Teenage pregnancies and abortions have been attributed to lack of access to contraception, and especially to lack of sex education. Child pregnancies lead to school drop-out rate that is dangerous for the entire continent. Studies show that about 62 percent of girls who enroll in primary schools do not make it to secondary due to early marriages. After undergoing female genital cutting, the girls are instilled with the false attitude that womanhood is more valuable than education. In some countries like Ethiopia, girls drop out of school rate is significantly higher than that of boys due to teenage pregnancy, child marriage, long distance walks etc. In Kenya, for instance, gender disparity in education is severe in North-Eastern Province due to its remoteness and inaccessibility to school (Ombati, 2003). It is not surprising that a 14-year-old like Maureen Chacha and the 17-year-old Jane Ghati are happy to declare that they are happily married to elderly men in Kehancha and that they are already mothers to several siblings. Among the four clans in Kuria community of Kenya, - Bugumbe, Bukira, Nyabasi, and Bairege - education for girls is considered secondary to female genital cutting. According to Samson Michira of Action Aid Kenya, a non-profit organization that advocates for girl education. Parents prefer to educate boys because they believe that girls are a source of wealth
through dowry (Otieno, 2016). In Tanzania for instance, half of the school drop-out each year are girls between 12-14 years of age. Social conflict is also a significant factor as children are caught up in frequent conflicts, as parents are unwilling to send their children to school for fear of the danger of being kidnapped, raped, molested and subjected to abuse (Abdi, 1998: UNESCO, 2009). In addition to poverty and coerced marriage, most girls drop out of school due to lack of basic sanitation in schools as in the case of girls skipping school due menstruation inconvenience and dropping out of school altogether. Pressure for early marriage is a major obstacle, as this often result in drop outs. In cultures where girls are viewed as an economic burden or an asset for economic advancement, they are withdrawn from school to marry. Challenges to education access has led to illiteracy and dependence of most women to men as they are often powerless without formal education.
Social Construction of Gender Inequality To understand gender inequality in education, it is important to interrogate the process of social construction of gender in Africa. Many cultures not only have two gender subcultures, that is, the cultural distinction between two genders; they also endorse male dominance. It is because culture is a collection of ideas and habits by which members of a society they learn, share and transmit values from generation to generation. It is a generally acceptable behavior (Geertz, 1973: Linton, 1945:213). The construction and universalization of masculinities and femininities, is often based on the common ideology that one gender is better than the other. The application of this ideology often leads to social exclusion, subordination, and marginalization of one gender. This social strategy that is often employed consciously or unconsciously is responsible for the social construction of social inequality and the apportionment of gender roles and social
status (Mabili, 2013). Social rules governing human experience are intertwined with the basic institutions of society such as the family, economy and religion which in turn influence behavior. These institutions are clusters of values, norms and culture that every society embraces over time. They engulf a given community’s ideologies, assumptions about what is or ought to be right, appropriate or wrong and inappropriate. Through these ideologies and social goals, the society sanctions, and rewards appropriate behavior for conformity to and punishes deviations from acceptable behaviors. Through socialization, values that shape social behavior are instilled in individuals. Where observed, transition rites or initiations form the integral part of socialization as a way of dramatizing attributes expected of an individual. These culturally specified features of gender, for the properly socialized, are psychological reference points for personal gender identity. In Africa, acceptable and entrenched cultural practices that are responsible for gender inequality end up affecting girl child education opportunities. Due to an embrace of patriarchal ideals and norms, practices such as polygamy, female genital cutting, early or child marriages are commonplace and they often communicate the perception that a woman is not only lesser than a man, her role is to be limited to reproduction and childrearing responsibilities. When a culture considers it appropriate for a man to marry many wives while punishing women who seek similar relationships it not only cultivates a culture of social inequality through such treatment, it endorses it as the norm. When a culture expresses a preference for boys over girls and promotes a culture of coercing children into genital cutting and child or forced marriages, it conditions others to expect it and to view it as normal. In Mozambique, as in several African countries, for instance, girls as young as fifteen years old are married off (Addeney, 2018; Torchia, 2018). When customary law marginalizes women, by denying them opportunities for self-realization, it creates social inequality. When a married woman is socialized to consider herself a servant to her husband, she is not only marginalized, her self-esteem is undermined. In traditions where women are socialized not to
negotiate sexual advancement from husbands or to have a say in matters of when and whether to use contraception or condoms, women’s health is given less priority. A culture that refuses to recognize simple facts such as the non-use of contraceptive services exposes women to health concerns such as STI’s, HIV and unwanted pregnancies, is an ignorant culture that is not worthy of pride. When gender ideologies are powerful tools for cementing male dominance, the entire social group is made vulnerable to exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence. Although most societies embrace gender roles; because gender role apportioning can be positive in the sense of affirming specific gender strengths and self-worth, (Dolen, 2008), gender roles have been negative where they undermine or discourage full social participation in social development. Since gender roles are often constructed to adhere to set structural system, even when they seem innocent on the outside, they are often part of a social scheme, a social structure that is intentional and that is embedded within patriarchal expression of dynamics of power. These roles are often based on the socialized expectations that men should generally work outside the home, do the heavy work, fight the wars and dominate most if not all spatial ability jobs like mathematics, Engineering, Architecture and control the most powerful institutions. It is the expectation that women are to bear and nurse babies, care for the young and do the family chores such as cooking (Uchechukwo, 2017). Even when they work outside the home, they are expected to still work in the female occupations that deal with child-rearing and household care. Values about gender roles are instilled in children as early as when they are born. In most communities, the birth of a girl child is received in a different way from that of a boy. For instance, among the Kikuyu, when a girl is born, the father cuts four sugar canes and places the waste craps on the left side of the house. If it is a boy, the father cuts five sugar canes as a symbol of his higher role in society. A child belongs to the entire community and is no longer the property of one person and the sugar cane symbolizes 7
the fact that these children should be treated as expected of their gender. From birth onwards, the parents and the community at large instill into children gender expectations of them in society. In most cases, girls are brought up to embrace household duties such as house care, fetching water and firewood, and treating boys and men as superior entities. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to embrace masculine duties such as hunting, sitting with elderly men to learn leadership wisdom and to protect their families. At puberty, an individual is considered ready for adulthood and consequent responsibilities. At this time a sharp distinction between maleness and femaleness is made. While men enter the world of power, girl are instructed in matters of womanhood such as sexual games, menstruation taboos and the “secret” of childbirth. Socialization not to value education because a girl child is not expected to enter the world of power, her education I essentially devalued and considered irrelevant. As social groups are differentiated during the socialization process, privilege and power is often granted to one while the other is underprivileged and made powerless. As Iris Young has argued, injustice is often a consequence of social differentiation. Power is about privilege and oppression; a structural phenomenon that immobilizes and diminishes a social group. Often privilege, underprivilege, power, and powerlessness is expressed through exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence (Young: 1960; 39-65). In other words, social differentiation can lead to the suffering of one group as the other is privileged. Gender disparity occurs when power and wealth are transferred from one gender to the other. Gender exploitation is about the transfer of the fruit of material labor to men including other energies such as nurturing and even sexual energies. Exploitation; the transfer of the results of labor of one social group to benefit another. Social rules about what work is, who does what for whom, how work is compensated, and the social process by which the results of work are appropriated operate to enact relations of power and inequality” (Young, 1960: 58). These relations are produced and reproduced through a systematic process to maintain and augment power. Social marginals are those whom the system chooses not to use. Marginalization, as Young explains, is the most dangerous form of injustice since an 8
entire social group is excluded from useful participation in social life. This groups opportunity to exercise their capacities is blocked. The result is material deprivation. When the female gender is rendered powerless, half the resource potential of a social group that is powerless is lost from use. When women produce agricultural products and men take them to market and receive credit for their labor, the woman is denied credit she deserves. Important to note, however, is the fact that gender roles have evolved in the 21st century as men and women have taken on new demands, expectations and essentially new roles. For example, men are expected to share roles that were considered feminine such as child rearing and help in the households (World Bank, 2012). In the cultural practice of Unyango of the Digo of Tanzania girls are taught how to take care of their bodies and how to behave when married especially how to relate to men. In Malawi, for instance, practices such as Chinamwari is meant to train teenage girls in techniques that will satisfy a man during sexual encounter. Traditional cultures contribute to sexual objectification of women. Experiences of gender-based violence that are rampant in Africa impact the girl child’s ability to attend and complete school. Gender-based violence, the physical, verbal and sexual assault, harassment of girls and women is believed to be the norm. In South Africa, for instance, Prinsloo explains how rape, assault, sexual harassment are some of the frequently reported forms of gendered practices, with girls being exposed to fondling rape, in school toilets, empty classrooms, and hallways and subjected to aggressive sexual advances (Prinsloo, 2006). In Guinea, studies indicate that boys are very aggressive towards girls and that they often use force, threat and teases to silence them. Ombati and Ombati (2012) observe that “sexual violence and harassment in school erect a discriminatory barrier for children especially girls who are seeking education” (129). Where child marriage is condoned, teenage pregnancy is also normalized. It is a noted fact that in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique and Sudan which embrace female genital cutting, there are higher rates of teenage pregnancy school dropouts (Kiragu and Zabin, 1995,
Ombati, & Ombati, 2012). The reality of child marriage is evident in data that show that 1 in 9 girls from developing countries are married before the age of 15 and that 38% of the girls in Sub-Sahara are married off before age 18 (UNICEF, 2013). Among the nomadic pastoral communities such as the Samburu, Maasai, Turkana, Pokot, Somali, Rendile Borana and Oromo of Kenya, marriage is common at or shortly after puberty, especially for girls. In some African communities, religious and traditional norms are used to dictate marriage age. Early marriage is considered protective to their young daughter from dangers of sexual assault and pregnancy out of wedlock. The legitimization of gender-based experiences such as female genital cutting, and child marriage scare girls from attending school. Female genital cutting; a cultural practice that is entrenched in several African communities is a rite of passage which marks a girls’ transition into adulthood. This practice which is linked proper upbringing, proper sexual behavior, values of virginity and marital fidelity is designed in mos of this countries as a preparation for a girl to assume adult duties including marriage. The assumption is that female genital cutting makes the girls “clean and beautiful” by ridding them of external vestiges of “maleness” thus making the girls to feel grown up, mature and ready to engage in sexual relationship and ultimately marriage. The onset of menstruation is also a factor in school drop-out. In most African communities, menstruation is taboo, therefore girls are prohibited in engaging in public related chores and events including cooking. During this time, they are banished to private spheres, thus interfering with their school. According to the beading culture of the Samburu of Kenya, for instance, girls are encouraged to engage in sex with a relative in exchange of beaded necklaces. The beaded necklace which serves as a declaration of engagement grants a male family relative the permission to have sexual intercourse with the girl in question. Because beading is an early promise of marriage to the family, girls may be beaded as early as 6 years old. Although this beading culture is commonly featured as a symbol of Kenyan cultural pride, the violence and abuse that is legitimized in the name of culture undermines children’s and women’s pride,
integrity and rights to full social development and societal participation since these girls often have no choice in the matter. The legitimization of gender-based violence such as underage sexual encounters is essentially the legitimization of rape. Unwanted pregnancies to such young girls not only expose them to reproductive health issues such as child mortality, fistula, these girls are exposed to sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) and health complications that accompany these practices. Although early marriage as a practice affects all children, girls are most affected. As stated by the UNICEF, most of these child brides end up in poverty, less educated and with serious health issues, for themselves and their children. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to lose their lives during child birth. According to studies, girls age 15-19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or child birth compared to those over age 20. When a woman is under 18, her child is 60% more likely to die in its first year of life than a baby born to a mother over 18 years. Countries with the highest child marriage rates have the lowest rates of educated women. While child brides have been an acceptable practice in many countries, modern societies have tried to protect children by insisting they get opportunities to education in order to live a better life. The high school drop-out rates in Sub-Saharan Africa due to teenage pregnancy should concern the nations. It is for this reason that the United Nation, the organization to which most countries subscribe in efforts to promote social justice and welfare, has embraced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates basic human rights of all based on "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" (Donnelly, 2007). The right to education, shelter and food are basic to each and every human being. To deny child brides education is to deny them a fundamental right. A country that denies women education does not only deny these women a healthy and better livelihood, it also denies itself human power that would have gone into its development. It is no wonder that countries with the most child marriages happen to be the poorest.
For a long time, school policies in most sub-Saharan African have advocated the expulsion of pregnant girls as they are viewed to be a bad influence on other girls. As a result, very few girls or young mothers complete their education (Oyaro, 2010; Wanjama and Kimani, 1995). Although some countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe have changed their policies and are now permitting girls who get pregnant to return to school after bearing their children, it is a long way before the stereotype associated with pregnancy in school is overcome. Although the government of Kenyan currently recognizes gender-based violence as criminal especially for a child who has not attained eighteen years, it is often difficult for community members to ignore practices that are legitimately accepted as culture and a tradition.
Religion and Gender Inequality Human behavior is not only influenced by culture, values play a significant role in the social construction process. The influence of culture and religion on gender behavior is a dialectical relationship such that it can sometimes be difficult to discern which one of these causes the other. The recognition of how these social facts intersect to influence behavior is central to understanding gender disparity and gender inequality. As a socialization agent, religion is an institutionalized system of symbols, beliefs, and practices that are beyond the mere explanation of the ultimate concern. As Peter Berger explains it, religion is a world constructor and maintainer. It is the human enterprise by which the sacred cosmos is established (1990: 26). The effectiveness of religion lies in its role in the “ruling relations”’; as a legitimizing agent of social institution and the power, they possess (Smith, 1966). As an agent of social interaction, religion not only influences moral norms and behavior, it legitimizes value patterns thus giving individual members of the society the criteria for accepted and normalized patterns of relationships (Parsons (1951:81). The centrality of religion in African cultures is reflected not only in the African religious notoriety as noted by John S. Mbiti (1989), it is also clear in women’s experience; a fact that has led Oduyoye to
declare African women as religion’s chief clients (Oduyoye, 1999). Africa is home to three major religions; indigenous religions, Christianity and Islam. Central to African religiosity is the holistic approach to life which makes the expression of religious values in behavior a daily experience. The perceptions of these religions about gender disparity, role and status is significant. While they have positive values and teachings regarding respect and the treatment of all human beings as children of God and the recognition that human worth transcends all relations, these religions also possess values that justify gender inequality. A few examples suffice. In some West African countries like Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Southwestern Nigeria, the practice of Trokosi, the traditional priestess training sessions, have been used to promote gender inequality and to undermine full social participation of women by keeping enslaved young virgin girls from enrolling or attending school. The word Trokosi which literally mean “slaves to the gods,” involves the sending of young innocent virgin girls to shrines as reparation and sanctity for misdeeds of their family members. Virgin girls, who spend their days collecting water, cooking, cleaning, farming, and caring for livestock, are denied access to education and are essentially banished from their family and exposed to sexual encounters with ritual masters. Some parents get their daughters out of school to enroll them in these traditional priestess training sessions (Tanye, 2008). While foreign to Africa, Christianity and Judaism have introduced to the continent values that help to undermine gender equality. The Jewish creation narrative, subscribed to by the two religions describe the woman as having been created from Adam’s one rib. This symbolism that is often cited in African churches and Mosques promotes the perception of a woman as inferior to man. According to this Genesis account of the Bible, gender inequality is justified by the claim that God created man “in his own image” and that “a man is the image and glory of God, but a woman is the glory of man” (Genesis 3:16) Because man was not made from woman, but woman from man, she is rendered inferior to man. Teachings of St. Paul, a 13
Christian saint who popularized Christianity and a staunch product of the Jewish culture, reiterate this gender ideology of male dominance in his instructions to the early church when he instructs women to shut up in church (1Cor. 14:34-35. Paul also teaches about women’s submission to their husbands in Ephesians 5:22-2 and Colossians, 4:18. These Christian teachings that reinforce gender disparity are echoed in churches across
Africa participate in the social construction and reconstruction of gender disparity and gender inequality. In Islam, the belief that a woman was created for man is grounded in the Hadith and in some Qur’anic passages. Sura 4: 34 and Sura 2: 288 are generally cited in support of the contention that men have a degree of “advantage” over women. Sura 4: 34 translated by A. A. Maududi reads: Men are the managers of the affairs of women because Allah has made the one superior to the other and because men spend all of their wealth on women. Virtuous women are, therefore, obedient; they guard their rights carefully in their absence under the care and watch of Allah. As for those women whose defiance you have cause to fear, admonish them and keep them apart from your bed and beat them. Then, if they submit to you, do not look for excuses to punish them: note it well that there is Allah above you, who is Supreme and Great (Hassan, 1991: 110). This notion, describe men as having qawama over women because of the advantage that men supposedly have over them and because men spend their property in supporting women (An’Na’im, 1996: 214). Hadith describes a virtuous woman as one who pleases and obeys her husband at all times. When women are described as being different from men in the amount of nafs: (an animal life force) which includes lusts, emotions and desires and aqel (reason, rationality), and the ability to control their emotions and to behave in socially appropriate ways, their worth is rendered to be unequal to that of men (Boddy, 1989:53)1. Consequently, the imposition of strict Purdah – the Muslim practice of secluding girls and women from the public unless accompanied by a male guardian reinforces this ideology. Pudah has been associated with serious hindrance to girl’s ability to go and to stay in attendance (Papaneck, 1982).
This is comparable to the Greek and Christian notion of dualism where femininity is considered inferior. 14
Culturally, gender-based practices such as female genital cutting, and child marriage have found legitimacy in the three religions of Africa. Alongside female genital cutting is forced and child marriage. Female genital cutting which is practiced by some indigenous, Christian and Muslim followers in Africa is erroneously assumed by some to be a religious injunction. For instance, although the practice is not mentioned in the Torah, the Bible, or the Qur’an- it is often associated with Jewish, Christians, Muslims and indigenous values. In indigenous communities of Africa, where identity formation is central to puberty rituals that embrace female genital cutting, a child is socialized to accept the practice as necessary in defining the femininity of a girl child or the masculinity of a boy child. The act of shedding blood during this ritual serves as a binding force that unites initiates with ancestors for blessings and a healthy life. Re-integration of initiates into society signifies their physical and moral maturity and the approval of their new status by the clan and the ancestors (Nyangweso 2007; 2014). In the Middle Eastern cultures, where female genital cutting is referred to as tathir or tahara, an Arabic word for purification, it is considered as Khitan al Sunna or al-sunna, which means “compliant with the tradition of Muhammad” (Abu-Salieh, 2001: 11, 143). It is also argued by some Muslims that Ali, the fourth Caliph successor of Prophet Muhammad recommended it by declaring it a “meritorious act (Abu-Sahlieh 2001). Based on this claim, advocates of female genital cutting believe that an honorable woman is expected to undergo genital cutting as a meritorious act. In modern society we see cases where religious agents who continue to advocate against education of girls as in the case of Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The message that is communicated to society, and to the girl child is that her important role in society is to be a wife and mother. The social construction of gender inequality, therefore, robs the society potential necessary for general development. It ought to be remembered that the social construct that is aimed at suppressing one gender robs society of useful imprints that some talented men and women would offer society (Uchuchekwu, 2017: 90). While it can be argued that sex stereotyping that is based on nature or biological structure can be positive where it acknowledges and appreciates specific gender abilities, often gender 15
disparity yields are negative and unjust (Uchechukwo, 2017:82). When religion sanctions behavior by invoking sacred force, it grants such behavior authoritative power that in turn influences and affirms gender equality. By sanctioning patriarchal inclinations, that undermine girl education, the woman’s potential is marginalized and rendered powerless. This persistence of this situation in modern society ought to be reflected upon.
What is the way Forward?
As indicated above, the many challenges to girl education in Africa include culture, religion, poverty, inadequate facilities, household obligations that are determined by gender attitudes. Specifically, cultural norms and practices such as child marriages and female genital cutting undermine completion of the girl child’s education. While there are good values and practices that ought to be embraced and retained in a changing social world, harmful ones need to be reconsidered. To change gender inequality in education, it is imperative that Africans should reflect upon androcentric norms that have kept the African woman down. There is need to reconstruct a new identity for an African girl and woman to grant her the opportunity to full citizenry. The reconstruction of a new identity does not mean giving up on the African heritage, it is the realization and recognition that while embracing African heritage, African women need not submit to demeaning values and roles. In other words, a critique of culture does not mean the dismissal of everything culture or the rejection of affirming values and rituals, it is a challenge of those that facilitate power relations that undermine gender equality. It is about being the critical reflection on existing identities, cultures, and norms that undermine their full expression and participation in society. As McFadden explains, the formation of a new identity involves the rejection of public / private distinctions since the personal is political (McFadden, 1997). Boundaries between the private and the public need to be restructured to affirm the basic rights of all. It is important to interrogate the norms of socialization that 16
include rituals such as female genital cutting that inscribe messages of gender inequality on women’s bodies, making them vulnerable to disempowerment. They should embrace democratic values and structures that affirm women as humans with equal rights and opportunities with men. To claims human rights is to claim that power should be managed in a dignified way. Women should be allowed to live up to their potential and up to the standards they set for themselves. Such a process should reject gender-based violence in all its forms in order to reclaim female identity that is not defined through androcentric lenses. This should involve the confrontation of stereotypes that define African women as either birthers and child rearing. Education is a right, a precondition to self-determination and self-realization. Through education, society does not only learn skills and abilities for survival, education grant one the opportunity to live a responsible life as a citizen. Through education, one is given an opportunity to experiences a good healthy, productive life that includes improve economic circumstances that help to reduce poverty. With education, one gains the ability to reflect on the right and good things in life. While practices such as female genital cutting and child marriages are the norm in some cultures, education helps one to reflect on the necessity and health consequences of these practices. Rites of passage that embrace practices such as female genital cutting and child marriages are difficult to eradicate unless the entire community is educated of consequences that include gender inequality, non-access to education and the consequent effects of this. If governments can advocate for girl education through the enactment of policies that empower girls and boys about gender concerns, specifically consequences of female genital cutting and child marriages, gender inequality gap in education will be addressed. Governments can do this be requiring the integration of gender empowerment knowledge in the school curricula and in teacher training programs to promote awareness in the entire community. In Burkina Faso and Mali, for instance, lessons about female genital cutting are integrated in the school curriculum. The “tomorrow parents” project was initiated to encourage the youth to reflect upon 17
female genital cutting as a cultural practice. Also initiated is the “Youth against FGM” project, which encourages the youth to inform their peers about health issues and harm associated with some customs and traditional practices. In Kenya, a project known as Ntanira na Mugambo (literally translated as “circumcision through words”) was initiated to encourage parents to celebrate rites of passage without actual circumcision of girls. The objective of these projects is to empower the youth to reflect on their cultures even as they embrace valuable aspects of their cultural values they wish to retain.
Conclusion In this chapter, challenges related to education and gender in Africa have been discussed. It is argued that Africa as a continent continues to embrace patriarchal values that undermine social equality, specifically gender inequality in education. Drawing from existing data, the chapter demonstrated gender inequality as a serious concern not just in education but also in other societal relations. Cultural and religious norms that legitimize gender inequality sanction gender inequality. It noted that girls in poor, remote areas and those rid by conflict are affected the most. To change the situation, these numerous obstacles that the girl child faces should be confronted. For instance, it is important that entire communities begin conversations to ensure that they will treat boys and girls as full citizens. It is important that coordination between the ministry of education and health is strengthened to ensure that health services are not only delivered to those in needs, data should be collected to assist in identifying the problem especially areas of need. It must be ensured that cultures and religious norms and practices that undermine the girl child are prohibited by the government and that schools remain safe havens and free of sexual abuse to confront drop-out rates. The government should support retention of adolescent mothers in schools and advocate for the rights of the girl child. It is important that governments establish school policies that advocate for both girls’ and boys’ education. Countering the drop-out rates by a return to school policies will give girls and women an 18
opportunity to continue their education. As noted during the 13th annual Kenya Primary School Head Teachers Association (KPSHA) held in Mombasa, community empowerment on matters of gender equality is crucial and it must be accompanied by policies for re-entry of learners who drop out of school due to pregnancy-related causes. It is important that such girls and women are funded through a special scholarship to motivate their efforts to return and complete school. For effectiveness, empowerment programs must include education on sexual reproductive health to empower the youth on how to prevent situations that are likely to impact their lives. It is good for Africa as a continent to educate women, as they constitute 50 percent of the continent’s population. Their skill set are bound to enrich the continent in various developmental areas. African should make the 21st century the age of gender equality in education
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