Girls ' education

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					Forum for African Women Educationalists FAWE


An Agenda for Change

FAWE is greatful to Prof. G.A. Benaars and Dr. Wanjiku Mukabi Kabira for their assistance in compiling this brochure.

GIRLS’ EDUCATION – IS THERE A PROBLEM? It is a fact that a number of girls do attend school but the problem is that the number is disturbingly small. It is a fact that girls are duly enrolled in primary schools but the problem is that many of them drop out at an early stage and only the fortunate few continue to study in secondary schools and universities. It is a fact that girls grow up together with boys at home and in the community but the problem is that girls are forced to grow up differently and are not given the same opportunities and the same facilities as boys. It is a fact that girls and boys often learn in the same schools, are taught by the same kind of teachers, study the same syllabus and have similar potential as the boys, but the problem is that in the end girls lag behind the boys and girls’ performance tends to be lower than that of boys.


WHAT IS WRONG WITH GIRLS’ EDUCATION? GirIs’ education in Africa and elsewhere has long been plagued by a pedagogy of difference, by a way of educating that stresses the differences between boys and girls, between men and women, rather than the similarities. Such a pedagogy of difference starts at home and in the community. Parents educate girls differently from boys because the parents, and the relatives, and the neighbours, perceive girls to be radically different from boys. Parents, and the community at large, wrongly believe that boys are more intelligent, More capable, more responsible, more important than girls. As a result girls grow up believing that they are grossly inferior to boys, simply because they are girls. The pedagogy of difference undermines the education of girls and will continue to do so as long as gender bias prevails.


WHAT IS GENDER BIAS? Girls are evidently different from boys biologically speaking. Such differentiation is physiological or physical, reflecting the difference between the sexes, between males and females. Sex roles are derived from these physical differences. A woman’s role is naturally linked to pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding. But sex roles are not the same as gender roles. Gender refers to the differences between men and women on socio-cultural grounds, and goes beyond merely physical differences. In society women tend to perform tasks or roles that are different from those performed by men. These gender roles are not natural, but they are cultural. They have been constructed or created by people in the course of time. As social constructs gender roles can change. Unfortunately, these roles have traditionally been regarded as fixed and unchangeable for the sake of continuity and tradition. As a result they came to be equated with sex roles. A woman’s task in the home, in the family, in the community, was thus incorrectly perceived as a sex role. Gender bias and gender typing followed from this.


Girls and women are therefore characterized upto today, in a uniform, fixed and one-sided manner, and are depicted as the weaker sex. dominated and controlled by the male population. To perpetuate such domination a pedagogy of difference is to be continually maintained. WHY DOES THIS GENDER GAP MATTER? The education of girls and women leads to many benefits: • Lower infant and material mortality • Improved family health and nutrition • Increase in contributions to economic growth. • Longer life expectancy for women and men • Improved opportunities for income earning by women in formal and informal sectors. • Lower fertility rates. Education will make. • your daughter a better wife. • Education will make your girl a better mother. • Education will make your girl a better worker. • Education will make your girl a better daughter. HOW DO TEACHERS TEACH GIRLS DIFFERENTLY? Gender bias is commonly found in African schools. It is reflected in the official curriculum, notably in the officially recommended textbooks.


Women and girls are marginalized and devalued in most African textbooks. Women and girls are mentioned fewer times than men and boys. When they are mentioned, they are portrayed as passive, dependent, weak, fragile and even dumb, engaged mainly in non-remunerative or poorly paid, less prestigious occupations. The pedagogy of difference is thus maintained, reinforcing male domination and a patriarchal perspective. Gender bias within the school Is not restricted to the official curriculum, where it occurs by default, if not by design. It is even more evident in the hidden curriculum, in the learning that happens outside the formal programme. Gender bias takes the form of discrimination in the classroom: a systematic bias against female pupils, a dominating attitude towards girls, a restriction of girls’ potential and responsibility, insulting language and behaviour towards girls, unfairness in assessment, awards and remuneration, and continuous stereotyping. Clearly, teachers teach girls differently and no wonder girls learn differently.


WHY DO GIRLS LEARN DIFFERENTLY? Upon birth girls enter an unfriendly, even hostile world. From the start their potential is either ignored or suppressed, and their ability is neither recognized nor appreciated. Traditional education in the home, public education within the community, formal education in the school continue to promote gender bias rather than gender equity. Girls are therefore condemned by the parents, by the public, by the teachers to remain inferior and powerless in a male-dominated society. Not surprising, girls learn differently from boys as they are not expected to excel, to stand out, to realize their full potential. HOW CAN WE CHANGE GIRLS’ EDUCATION? Education is above all a matter of socializaiion. Education seeks to fit individuals into society by teaching them the accepted and established 6

values, ideas, practices. Traditionally, in Africa and elsewhere, socialization has always been a means of social control, whereby people exercise power over other people, whereby one group dominates another. Such domination has traditionally favoured adults over children. men over women, boys over girls. The present state of girls’ education points to domination by parents, by teachers, by the community over girls. If we are to change girls’ education. we must change the pattern of domination through empowering education. WHAT IS EMPOWERING EDUCATION? Empowerment is a contemporary, fashionable term. It is also a dangerous word, If misunderstood. Empowerment generally refers to a process through which people or communities increase their power and control over their own lives. Empowerment in this sense looks like a threat, as it implies domination, power over. Power over tends to be embodied in images of 7

manhood, fatherhood, warriorhood. To speak, therefore, of empowerment in the case of girls and women seems unacceptable: It upsets the established order. Truly understood, empowerment implies enablement, not domination. In its original meaning power derived from the Latin posse, points to ability or capacity, it enables girls to advance their own development. Empowering education makes girls aware of their potential and allows them to realize their abilities to the full. Empowering education equally changes boys, their attitudes and values, making them socially responsible. Ultimately empowering education prepares girls and boys for mutually supportive roles and for nation building. EMPOWERING EDUCATION – WHO BENEFITS? The question may be asked: who stand to benefit from any position change in girl’s education?


Obviously, the girls themselves will be the first beneficiaries of an empowering education. They stand to gain in many ways, both as individuals and as members of the society Empowering education will enable them to occupy their rightful place first in school, and at home, and later in the community. But ultimately society at large will benefit from any improvement in the education of girls and women. Empowering education For girls—and women— Will directly improve Family health and nutrition It will also improve Opportunities for income-earning By women, thereby enhancing their role In socio-economic development. Furthermore, Empowerment education Tends to lower 9

Infant as well as maternal mortality. It will also lower Fertility rates And increase Life expectancy For both women and men. In short, Better education for girls, Will prove to be benefitial To all. There is a great need, Therefore, To promote girls’ education, Empowering as it is. WHO CAN ENSURE CHANGE OF GIRLS’ EDUCATION? To bring about change in girls’ education, thereby empowering girls, requires above all a NEW pedagogy, a new way of educating. The pedagogy of difference must be replaced by a pedagogy of empowerment. To facilitate this radical change there is need to involve • teachers • schoolheads • writers and publishers • policy makers • educationalists • parents 10

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donors and funding agencies boys and above all the girls themselves.

HOW CAN WE ENSURE A CHANGE IN GIRLS’ EDUCATION? As TEACHERS we must Give equal attention to girls and boys. • Avoid gender stereotyping in the classroom. • Encourage girls and boys to express themselves freely and facilitate critical thinking. • Encourage girls to participate fully in classroom and school activities. • Expose girls to leadership roles and responsibilities • Not demean the dignity of the female child or of women by word, gesture or action. • Encourage creativity. • Prevent sexual abuse of any kind by teachers or peers. • Emphasize dialogue and participation. • Promote Science and Mathematics among girls through affirmative action. As HEADS of schools we must • Be fully committed to girls’ education • Act as positive role models. • Ensure that all teachers and staff are gender sensitized • Be deeply aware of the multiple constraints facing girls. • Ensure that girls succeed. • Work closely with, and involve parents, communities and other partners. • Encourage dialogue and participation at all levels. • Create and sustain a supportive and safe learning environment.


As PUBLISHERS we can • Ensure that the textbooks we produce are gender responsive • Solicit manuscripts that will directly benefit the education of girls. • Encourage writers to be gender sensitive. • Organize workshops for textbook writers and editors to become gender sensitized. • Promote the education of girls by affirmative action, eg. Bursaries, awards, prizes. As WRITERS in Education we must • Be informed about gender issues. • Be gender sensitive. • Ensure that the content and style of our writings reflect gender sensitivity. • Avoid explicit references to violent and abusive activities. • Promote the education of girls in a creative and critical manner. • Incorporate positive role models for girls in textbooks. As LEADERS in Education we must • Support the development of gender responsive curricula and textbooks. • Promote gender responsive policies in the field of education. • Ensure that the resources and facilities are equally available for boys and girls. • Support gender sensitization programmes for various groups, including parents, teachers, administrators. • Encourage girls to continue their studies notwithstanding the obstacles. • Institute affirmative action on behalf of girls and their education. As PARENTS we can • Encourage our daughters to develop their talents. • Support our daughters in the study of Science and Mathematics. • Guarantee free time to our daughters to study and to do homework. • Expose girls to leadership roles and responsibilities. • Encourage dialogue and participation. 12

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Abandon outdated traditions and gender discrimination. Treat our sons and daughters with equal dignity and respect. Guide our daughters in their career choice.

As DONORS and FUNDING AGENCIES we must • Make gender responsiveness a criterion for funding projects and programmes in teacher education. • Find bursary schemes to enable bright yet financially crippled girls to continue with their schooling. • Support gender sensitization programmes for various cadres of people including policy makers, educational practitioners and administrators. • Facilitate replication of successful innovations targeting the education of girls who drop out of school. • Support the creation and maintenance of a reliable database focusing on the education of girls. • Promote the publication of gender sensitive textbooks and resource materials. • Actively support Science and Mathematics education for girls.

Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE)
12th Floor, International House P.O. Box 53168, Nairobi, Kenya Tel: (254 2) 226590, 330352, Fax: (254 2) 210709 Email: (254 2), Website: