By Selma Nawrozzada
GIRLS’ EDUCATION IN NIGERIA
One of the most significant tools to empower girls within their family and community is education. Education is recognized as a fundamental human right. Gender inequality in education however remains a huge concern. Despite several national and international legal instruments such as the Strategy for the Acceleration of Girls Education Programme (2003), the Child Rights Act (2003) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), in Nigeria, many girls still face challenges preventing them from access to education. This article focuses on the theme of girls’ education in Nigeria: the challenges and importance thereof.
Barriers to education
Nigeria, with an estimated population of 206 million has approximately 14 million out of school children, making it the highest number in the world. Girls make up 60% of this number. Regardless of mandatory basic education, there are many barriers which keep girls from accessing education such as:
- child marriage,
- sexual violence,
- a patriarchal system; and
- traditional preferences.
Many girls are married without their full consent. With approximately 22 million child marriages, 64% of all girls are faced with being a child bride and at high risk of being victims of maternal and child mortality. Worryingly, 44% of girls are married before the age of 18. In over three decades, the early marriage rate has only declined by 1%.Although the Child Rights Act – which prohibits marriage under the age of 18, passed in 2003, there are still 12 Northern states which are yet to implement the Act. Further, existing laws concerning child marriage and the applicable sanctions are not clearly spelt out or enforced at all. The country’s laws also exist alongside customary laws on marriage which explains the poor registration of marriage, the failure to apply sanctions and no adequate protection for child brides. A study conducted within a few communities reported that, in practice, marriages involve children as young as 7 to 10 years old. Nigeria’s population of child brides is expected to double by 2050 if the current pattern continues. The reasons behind child marriage are often a mix of cultural, social, economic and religious factors.Poverty is one of the key causes of child marriage, however the chances of remaining poor and the risk of harmful impacts on both girls’ psychological and physical health are often forgotten. As a result, child marriage limits a girl’s right and access to education and completion becomes less likely.
Traditional preferences and a patriarchal system
In many countries, Nigeria among them, traditional cultural practices play an integral role in a girl’s enrolment in school. In rural areas, it is the patriarchal system which decides the hierarchy of roles for men and women. It is a system that considers women as intrinsically inferior to men which is a main cause of gender inequality. A commonly held belief is that girls belong at home to learn and carry out domestic responsibilities. Thus, many parents possess a negative attitude towards schooling for girls. This preference is based on the traditional practice that the boy child will succeed their fathers and support their family. As girls are often indoctrinated into such gendered roles, it leaves them with little room for thoughts of education and self-actualization. The boy child is also often given preference due to the patrilineal system, that is, a system which grants inheritance rights to the male line. As a result, Nigerian schools from primary to tertiary level are dominated by males.
Abductions and violence
Aside from the aforementioned beliefs, parents are not comfortable sending their daughters to school due to fear. This is common in the North Eastern region where attacks on schools and the abduction of female students have often taken place by the terrorist group Boko Haram. In 2014, the group abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno state. This caused global outrage and wide-spread criticism. Borno is the worst hit of all states as over 512 schools have been destroyed over the years. This has affected access to basic education significantly. In addition, girls often have to walk long distances to school which puts them at risk of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment, rape and exploitation. Such forms of violence also increase the risk of teenage pregnancy and lead to a further decrease in girls attending school.
The importance of education
Education is a tool for girls and women to claim their rights, helps to realize potential in economic, political and social aspects, and is the most powerful way to raise people out of poverty. For the girl child, it is one of the first steps in participating in society and freeing herself from economic exploitation and patriarchal oppression. Education is an instrument that is capable of correcting inequality in any society. The exclusion of girls from education denies them the opportunity to develop their potential and to play a crucial role in their families, country and the world at large. Providing more education for girls will increase the involvement of women in the political process and further the spread of information on several health threats including female circumcision, early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Educated girls may also result in a decrease of infant and maternal mortality, domestic and sexual violence and child marriages.
In order to achieve more gender equity within its education system, Nigeria has established several policies in the past few years. However, many of these policies have not been able to achieve the desired results. To ensure the elimination of gender inequality, traditional practices which create such disparities, should be discouraged at all education levels. The government should support girls’ education by providing financial aid through scholarships as well as establishing a quota system to ensure equal admission of boys and girls. Although legislation concerning child marriage exists, its enforcement should be improved to ensure the rights and safety of the girl child. Parents and the community should be educated on the consequences of certain traditional practices which have detrimental effects on girls and families.
Further progress ensuring equitable access and countering gender disparity in education is crucial. Such progress requires the government to challenge and eliminate the barriers and their roots; especially traditional practices. These are big steps to be taken, however they will have a significant impact and improve the current situation for girls and their access to education. Education not only grants girls access to knowledge, but extends these benefits to her children, community and country. It should not be forgotten that girls will be the mothers of tomorrow’s generation, making education a significant part of their life.
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 ibid (n 6)
 ibid (n 8)
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 ibid (n 14)
 ibid (n 17)
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 ‘More than half of all schools remain closed in Borno State, epicentre of the Boko Haram crisis in northeast Nigeria’ (Unicef, 29 September 2017)
<https://www.unicef.org/nigeria/press-releases/more-half-all-schools-remain-closed-borno-state-epicentre-boko-haram-crisis> accessed 27 April 2021
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 ibid (n 17)
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