Education is one of the basic human rights recognised since 1948 when the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted.
It was also given legal force in Nigeria by the Child’s Rights Act of 2003.
Section 15 of the act states inter alia that, “Every child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education and it shall be the duties of the government in the country to provide such education.
“Every parent or guardian shall ensure that the child or ward attends and completes his/her primary school education and junior secondary education.’’
Notwithstanding the global adoption, there are still issues of gender inequality in access to education in the country.
Educationists argue that school-age girls out of school are large in number when compared to boys.
Some of the factors responsible for this disparity are religious misinterpretation, cultural practices, poverty, early marriage, illiteracy, among others.
Since poverty is identified to be one of the causes of militating against the education of the girl-child in Nigeria, some non-governmental organisations have put programmes in place to assist the government with a view to deepening girl-child education.
Actionaid, one of the non-governmental organisations assisting the government to deepen girl-child education selected the Federal Capital Territory, Kwara, Ebonyi and Kebbi states for the implementation of its projects tagged ‘Strengthening Women’s Empowerment to Deepen Girls Education (SWEDGE)’.
Mr Abayomi Opakunle, project officer for Kwara explained that the selection was based on a baseline study which revealed a high level of out-of-school girls in the chosen states when compared to others.
In the state for instance, Actionaid in partnership with a state-based NGO, Centre for Community Empowerment and Poverty Eradication (CCEPE) in 2014 picked three rural communities for intervention.
The communities are Gatte, Tenebo and Tungan Maje – all in Kaiama local government area.
Under the programme, businesses were set up for women and youths in these rural communities with their proceeds strictly tied to sponsorship of girl-child education, besides other provisions to support the project.
“Studies conducted revealed that out-of-school children, especially girls, were increasing. The project was designed to empower women with life-building skills. “The women were in turn to support the education of their girl children.
“Actionaid Nigeria also disbursed funds to support the community-based NGOs for high-level sensitisation campaigns at community, local and state levels, involving all the key relevant stakeholders in the education sector.
“The project provided physical structures, income-generating businesses for women and youths to support girl-child education, renovation of classrooms and construction of a block of two classrooms as well as children playing sets to attract children to school,’’ he said.
The project manager added that a group of women professionals were engaged for the sensitisation exercise on the importance of girl-child education.
The professionals were drawn from Medical Women Association of Nigeria (MWAN), Women Wing of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Nigerian Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) and the International Federation of Women Lawyer (FIDA) among other women groups.
Opakunle noted that community dialogue on the state of education was also conducted. All these, he said, raised the consciousness of the people on the importance of girl-child education.
“In recognition and appreciation of the project, the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) provided desks for the classrooms in Tungan Maje, while the local government council provided shelves, books and reading chairs/tables in the library donated by partners,” Opakunle said.
He said that appraisal of the project showed a big rise in the enrolment of the girl-child since 2014.
Mrs Memunat Yinusa, a resident of Tungan Maje and one of the operators of the Women Income Generating Activity (IGA) while appraising the intervention, said it had yielded the desired result in the community.
Many girls, who were enrolled for primary education from the proceeds of the IGA, she said, were now in secondary schools, while those admitted into secondary schools have since graduated.
According to her, all the previously out-of-school girls were made to return to class for the continuation of their education.
“The programme is ongoing. In fact, our then secondary school dropouts have completed their studies and are now pursuing their tertiary education,” she said.
Yinusa said that the intervention changed the perception of the rural dwellers about girl-child education.
For Mohammed Umar of Gatte community, the programme has helped to eradicate teenage pregnancies among their girls.
Under the project, Umar said youths in the community were provided with shea butter grinding machine, while women were trained on soap making and provided with machine for production.
Proceeds from these businesses, according to him, are what they use to finance the education of girls.
“In fact, they did a lot of projects. For SWEDGE, we have Activista, a youth group which mobilises for enrolment; soap-making company for women and shea butter grinding machine for the youths.
“They renovated our classrooms. In fact, we have witnessed tremendous changes as a result of the project.
“For instance, many of the dropout girls are now back in school and there is no more issue of teenage pregnancy,” said the youth leader.
The project manager, nonetheless, noted the challenges in the management of the income generating businesses, but said the NGO was working to reorganise the businesses.
“We visit the communities for periodic checks. We engage one-on-one with the beneficiaries, take pictures where necessary and document concerns relating to the project.
“We are still providing support through our traditional intervention; Local Rights Programme (LRP) in the communities to track challenges and provide support,” he said.
In her appraisal of the project, Mrs Bola Olupinla, the chairperson of Kwara NAWOJ lauded the initiative of Actionaid, saying it had really impacted on access to education of the girl-child in rural areas.
Olupinla, who was part of the women professionals engaged in sensitisation and awareness creation, urged the NGO to extend the programme to other remote parts of the state.
She also called on other NGOs in the country to borrow a leaf from the Actionaid initiative and engage more in actions that could deepen girl-child education in the country.