Where Do We Go From Here?

This is my last post on this blog, and I want to end on a positive note. I am going to talk about this article on Trust.org, the charitable arm of Thompson Reuters Corporation. It discusses this report, “The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013: Towards greater accountability to Africa’s children.” The report was produced by The African Child Policy Forum, a pan-African research institute focused on children across Africa. I’ll finish by talking about where a girls’ education movement can go from where it is today.

The article is titled “Ethiopia and Angola double number of girls in school in 10 years,” but many other successes are highlighted. Only 5 African countries have school fees for primary school (though there are associated costs in many places that can exclude the poorest of the poor). Across Africa, 78% of girls and 83% of boys attend primary school, a much-narrowed gap. Child death before the age of 5 (the U5MR: Under-5 Mortality Rate) fell significantly in a number of countries, by 52% in Rwanda and 47% in Liberia, stunning achievements. Back on the topic of girls’ education, Tanzania can now boast near universal net enrollment in primary school for both girls and boys, Ethiopia’s and Angola’s percentages of girls in primary did in indeed double, and a number of countries had significant gains.

There are other facts hidden in those facts and figures. I don’t want to take away from the successes of the countries mentioned in either this post or the report itself, but there is more to the story. Firstly, the Reuters article closes with the report’s list of the 10 least child-friendly governments in Africa: Chad, Eritrea, São Tomé and Príncipe, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mauritania. What does this mean?

From the report: “These countries failed to put in place appropriate legal and policy frameworks to protect children from abuse and exploitation, and did not make significant efforts to improve access to basic services and to achieve positive child-related outcomes” (xv). The ACPF took into account information like what percent of their budgets governments spent on health care, immunization programs, and education. The ACPF made efforts in the report and press statements to say that how child-friendly a country is not a matter of its wealth, but of its “political commitment.” Rwanda and Lesotho, for instance, are among the top 10, and their GDPs are among the lowest on the continent. Measuring via budget breakdowns is a strong proxy measure for such commitment, and I don’t find fault with that.

So where do we go from here? The report addresses that with two charts in my opinion. One can be found on page 180, if you’re interested. It’s titled “Primary Completion Rate.” Worryingly, Angola didn’t report this information, but Ethiopia did: 57.8%. Fortunately, that breaks down pretty evenly across the genders (60.7/54.8), but it’s pretty low on its own. That breakdown for the entire continent isn’t too bad either, but it shows that only about 2/3 of children are completing primary school.

The second chart (I’m almost done with all the numbers, I swear) lists secondary education enrollment rates, and here we’re not doing so great. Only 26% of girls and 30% of boys in Sub-Saharan Africa enroll in secondary school. Angola, doing so well in primary school, only enrolls 13% of its children in secondary school. The best number in the region comes from Cape Verde at about 65%.

So there’s been a lot of progress, particularly over the last ten years, and there is still much more to go. There are dedicated people working tirelessly in every country in the world to ensure that girls have equal access to education, that the education is of a high quality, culturally relevant, gender-sensitive, lasting an appropriate amount of time, and is free. This isn’t an issue that will ever “go away.” Governments change, conflicts occur, money dries up, etc. We – meaning, as I said before, the peoples of the world – need to help create sustainable and flexible systems and structures that can both address the problem today, and adapt to a host of different futures. If you feel motivated by anything you’ve read here, join in. The world could use your help.

 

The African Child Policy Forum. (2013). The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013: Towards greater accountability to Africa’s children. Addis Ababa: The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF).

Migiro, K. (2013, November 18). Ethiopia and Angola double number of girls in school in 10 years. Thompson Reuters Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.trust.org/item/20131117183905-ueksn

Female education affects child mortality rates

According to recent reports by UNESCO, allowing females to complete secondary education could decrease the under-five mortality rates in India and Nigeria by 61 and 43 percent, respectively. Aarti Dhar, reporter for Indian newspaper The Hindu, writes that completing secondary school causes girls to marry later, creating a higher maturity of both body and mind when they have children. Not only that, but also the academic and worldly knowledge gained in school allows mothers to better care for their babies.

In terms of mothers’ well-being, the 2012 World Mothers Report ranks India 119th and Nigeria 123rd out of 165 surveyed countries. This ranking is based on mothers’ health, educational and economic statuses. The article states that there are many “simple solutions” to improve children’s health, such as mosquito nets and clean water, but that these things are only effective if women are taught to use them. Of course he is correct, but to consider clean water a simple solution is a bit ambitious. Dhar also discusses several prevalent causes of child mortality, such as pneumonia and diarrhea. These diseases are largely preventable with appropriate vitamins and nutrients, and proper hygiene. By completing school, not only would mothers know the necessary nutrients and hygiene rules but Dhar asserts that they would have a stronger voice in the home.

An article I recently read by Jane Parpart entitled Deconstructing the Development Expert discusses the vulnerability of women in third world countries. During colonization (and even before) it was challenging to attend school no matter one’s gender, but men have historically been provided with greater opportunity. This led to the subordination of women due to poverty, a lack of education, and powerlessness.

Parpart discusses Women in Development (WID), an approach to the development of third world countries that is superimposed with feminism. Parpart argues that though those in WID may mean well, the discourse associated encourages practitioners to undervalue the knowledge and expertise of impoverished, primitive people – even women – perpetuating their general powerlessness. She brings to light a new “empowerment approach” to development that calls for a new definition of the word ‘development’ itself. This approach is grounded in the expertise and knowledge of the women in developing countries, and uses the experiences from their daily lives to determine what is needed in their lives and communities.

Applying this division of post-structuralism to Dhar, people tend to see their own problems above others’. If women were consulted about their desires and necessities in the community, I would speculate many of their concerns would focus on their rights – particularly those pertaining to education and health. Imagine if this approach were applied in every developing community. How many more health clinics would there be? Schools? Universities?

In this article, Dhar merely states facts and findings from recent UNESCO studies. Taken at face value, the credibility is negligent; however, once applied to recent readings and development theory, his writing becomes a succinct summary of what the development world should aim to achieve. Education is a powerful tool. It leads to better health, better job opportunities, a better economic status, and a bigger voice for all members of society, and isn’t that the purpose of development?

Dhar, A. (2013, September 25). Female education linked to under-5 mortality rate. The Hindu. Retreived from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/female-education-linked-to-under5-mortality-rate/article5164829.ece.