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

Secrets Behind Teenage Pregnancy: Who’s Responsible?

Teenage pregnancy is becoming a hot topic when discussing girls’ education. Dave and Amy have both written blogs responding to two proposed solutions: providing condoms and birth control (Uganda), and improving maternal and child health programs (Sahel). Amy’s post Tuesday quoted UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin who names little or no access to school as a factor contributing to teenage pregnancy. What if the schools themselves are contributing to teen pregnancy?

I recently found an article tucked away in a local newspaper from Botswana. It reports on a secondary school in central Botswana where a group of male students are threatening to take action in response to male teachers who are, “taking away their girlfriends”. Students at the school anonymously wrote a letter to the headmaster naming seven teachers involved in inappropriate relationships with female students at the school. This situation is not the first in Botswana, as the article reports. The school has asked both teachers and students to come forward with evidence so that proper disciplinary measures can be taken. I have found no follow up article.

You won’t find stories like this covered by the larger, international papers, perhaps because no one wants to admit it’s actually happening. Still, local reports allude to such behavior in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. Last month a member of Parliament in Kenya, John Muchiri, publicly commented on the rising cases of romantic relationships between teachers and schoolgirls and called it “shameful” and “irresponsible”. Unfortunately, Muchiri’s statement was only given one line of attention. Apparently no one thought it important to comment on Muchiri’s observation.

I spent four years teaching in Tanzania and I can testify that it is a regular occurrence there. In Tanzania, and I suspect these other nations, teachers force students to sleep with them in exchange for good grades. I personally know a young woman who got pregnant from her teacher. Luckily she was only months away from graduating and was able to hide her pregnancy until she had taken her final exam. I say “luckily” because Tanzania regularly expels students for getting pregnant.

Handing out condoms will only stop girls from becoming pregnant and maternal health care will only help them afterwards. I suggest a better strategy would be changing the source of why they are getting pregnant. How is it that girls are held responsible but not teachers? Inappropriate relationships with teachers do seem to raise alarm however, when it is with boys. An article in a Zimbabwean newspaper a few weeks ago reported on a teacher accused of sodomizing 10 young boys. The end of the article states, “According to Zimbabwean law, non-consensual same-sex behavior […] can lead to maximum life in prison if convicted.” If these students had been girls, would it have still raised the same alarm? To me, the tolerance of this hidden practice shows just how far we still have to go before girls everywhere are valued the same as boys.

Sources:

(October 25, 2013). I boys to men. The Voice. Retrieved from http://www.thevoicebw.com/2013/10/25/i-boys-to-men/.

Githinji, R. (October 16, 2013). MP warns teachers over sex with students. The Star. Retrieved from http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-139780/mp-warns-teachers-over-sex-students.

Xinhua (October 31, 2013). Zimbabwe teacher arrested for allegedly sodomizing 10 minors. Daily Monitor. Retrieved from http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/World/Zimbabwe-teacher-arrested-for-allegedly-sodomizing-10-minors/-/688340/2055128/-/umdy7t/-/index.html.

Tanzania and Uganda Deal with Pregnancy in Very Different Ways

Sometimes, girls become pregnant. This probably isn’t a revelation.

I want to talk about two school systems in Sub-Saharan Africa that are dealing with the issue of school-age pregnancy in very different ways.

As reported by Tanzania’s Daily News16,999 girls there dropped out of primary and secondary schools between 2006 and 2009 due to pregnancy. Additionally, 30% of Tanzanian girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18 (of course not all pregnancies result from sexual violence, but the figures are obviously partly related). But how does the government respond to this problem? Did they increase sex education classes, provide counseling services, or even instruct teachers to work with the students while they were out of school giving birth?

Well, no. According to a report published by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Tanzanian officials responded to this issue by instituting mandatory pregnancy testing followed by expulsion for positive results. It is important to point out that this expulsion is not legally required, but an apparent reaction by the schools. Even after expulsion, there is a stigma attached to teenage birth, although I am not sure why, given that the report shows that 44% of adolescent girls in Tanzania have either given birth or are pregnant by the age of 19. One young woman, Tatu, has been out of school since 2010, because the school that expelled her refused to supply a transfer letter to her new school. On a positive note, the CRC published the report in order to influence leaders who are currently reviewing the national constitution. They are working to get their findings considered and this practice stopped, among other things. But as Evelyn Opondo, the CRC’s Regional Director for Africa, says, this “is a practice quite prevalent throughout Africa.”

In Uganda, there has been a very different response. New Vision, a Ugandan newspaper, reports that the government plans to give every woman of reproductive age condoms and birth control pills. This obviously includes girls in school, specifically aged 14 to 18. While this doesn’t respond to issues of girls having sex younger than 14, it is a major step to even discuss the point. Whether this actually happens remains to be seen (it would be a political battle in any country, and not inexpensive) is less relevant to my point. Uganda’s problems in this area are not inconsequential, though they are of a smaller scale than in Tanzania. Uganda isn’t tackling this problem from the perspective that pregnant girls get pulled from school and likely do not finish their secondary education, but to tackle the problem that 16 women die of pregnancy-related complications every day in Uganda, and 15 times that number develop complications. The article notes that this puts them significantly behind on the 5th Millennium Development Goal.

But whatever their reasons, Uganda is taking a radical step forward, while the Tanzanian system (however unofficially) is taking a significant step backward. Contraception supply and education, sexual education, and pre- and post-natal support are essential to not only reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, but to care for the girls and their children when they do happen. Try as anyone might, sometimes, girls become pregnant.