The girl-child education is faced with numerous challenges especially in northern Nigeria where economic barriers, social cultural norms and practices, among other factors, discourage parents/guardians from enrolling the girl-child in formal education.
A recent report by UNICEF indicates that one in every five of the world’s out-of- school children is in Nigeria, of which many are girls.
Another recent report by a non-governmental organisation, Girls Education Mission (GEM) shows that girls account for 60 per cent of Nigeria’s 10 million out of school children.
GEM attributes the development to the patriarchal system that attaches more importance to the boy-child.
Mrs Keturah Shammah, the executive director of GEM explained that the system accorded more importance to the boy-child education to prepare them for their future role as breadwinners.
“They feel girls would get married after educating them and make their contributions to their matrimonial homes when they start working, so most of the parents do not consider it necessary to make investments educating the girl-child,“ she said.
Mrs Funmi Para-Mallam, a professor of Gender and Development Studies at National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) echoed Shammah’ s views.
She said that the Nigerian society, especially in Northern Nigeria, has deep seated patriarchal system worldview where the males are seen as more privileged and valued.
Para-Mallam also said that the girl-child is faced with institutional constraints, comprising legal and policy framework that limit access to opportunities.
The don also explained that school amenities are not often girl-child friendly.
She specifically mentioned toilets, which she noted, consideration was not given to the provision of menstrual hygiene facilities.
Para-Mallam claimed that many girls have dropped out of school because of embarrassment of menstrual occurrences.
“The recent kidnappings of students in some states in Northern Nigeria and the COVID-19 pandemic have further compounded the problem of poor enrolment of the girl-child in formal education.
The girls are usually the target of the rampaging bandits.”
According to Para-Mallam, the current situation seems convenient for parents to have one more genuine excuse for not sending their girls to school.
She said that findings showed that many girls got pregnant during the lock down period and so cannot even return to the school.
She therefore observed that the girls were exposed to sexual assault in their homes during the lock down.
“COVID-19 lockdown period exposed the violence and the danger the home poses to many girls. It is a challenge to girl-child education because these girls go to school and underperform because of the torture and torment they go through at home which is horrible, they cannot concentrate, they cannot focus, and it is horrible.
“It is a definite disadvantage likely to cause reversal in girl-child education,“ she said.
She stressed the need for gender responsive policy, curricular education review and national value re-orientation through sensitisation, especially in the grass roots to improve girl-child education.
The executive director of GEM, Shammah on her part, said that the lockdown further exposed the girls to their abusers who raped them.
She attributed the incidences to the fact that the unsuspecting, innocent girls were always around for the bored males in their communities, who saw them as their
play things or entertainment since their movements were restricted.
Shammah disclosed that some of the girls even married during the period of lock down.
“The school makes them busy, but now the girls are made to marry because of idleness and also the burden of domestic work is hard on them, so some prefer marriage and see it as freedom since COVID- 19 has made them to stay at home,“ she said.
An education stakeholder, Mrs Mary Afan, said the COVID-19 pandemic compounded issues of girl-child education in the north.
She said that most parents did not have money to pay school fees because of the economic down turn, so the boy- child was accorded priority.
Afan, who is also the national president, Small Scale Women Farmers’ Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON) explained that many girls got pregnant while running errands and hawking, as they fell victims of sexual assaults.
She further explained that the e-lessons organised by the government made girls in rural areas vulnerable to sexual assault as they were compelled to go to houses in their communities where electronic gadgets and android phones were available.
Afan said that some males took advantage of the situation to sexually assault the girls.
Mrs Jessica Vonkat, Plateau state coordinator, Country Women Association of Nigeria (COWAN), also reaffirmed that many girls were impregnated during the COVID-19 lock down.
“Girl-child education was gradually picking up, but with this COVID-19, it reduced drastically; some were raped and got pregnant and is still the same issue, “ she said.
Mr Ayuba Gana, the chairman, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) Plateau state chapter said that the girl-child was easy target in communities for rape, adding that it was evident during the lock down period.
He recommended that a special programme should be put in place to boost the education of the girl-child.