Poor enrolment of the girl-child remains a cause for concern, even as increase in the number of women in positions of authority in the education sector has been proffered as panacea to the problem. In this report ENE OSANG examines the situation.
Women are often faced with challenges that keep them from rising beyond a certain level in their chosen field of endeavour.
These challenges termed the ‘glass ceiling’ represent an invisible barrier that keeps females from rising beyond a certain level as compared to their male counterparts.
In many professions, women cannot break through the glass ceiling to the upper level of management and one of the main cause for these limitations is education, or rather the lack thereof.
This formed the core of discussion at virtual discussion also known as webinar convened by international human rights lawyer and gender advocate Ms. Mary Izobo to commemorate the Day of the African Child.
The webinar with the theme: Fighting Against A Gender ‘Glass Ceiling’: The Role of Women in Education interrogated some of the issues and proffered solutions for women and girls to shatter the gender glass ceiling.
African children as disadvantaged
Izobo, who facilitated and hosted the online discussion, noted that the webinar was to celebrate the International Day of the African Child, which has its origin exactly on June 16, 1976, where one of the most tragic human rights violations occurred – when a protest by school children in Soweto, South Africa, ended in bloodshed. These school children were protesting for the right to quality education and to be taught in their native dialect.
She expressed worry that 44 years later, African children were by far still the most disadvantaged in the world regarding access to education, quality of education and equity as Africa is home to one-third of all children who are not learning around the world.
Ms. Izobo cited the World Bank report which stated that girls are most likely to be out of school due to cultural and socio-economic factors and males are more likely to be more advanced in acquiring education than females.
She added that, “This is 2020 and yet women and girls cannot break through the glass ceiling to the upper level of management in their profession or even attain a certain level of education.”
She further stressed that, although there was progress when compared to times as far back as the 60s or the 70s, however, much work still needed to be done to break down barriers and shatter glass ceilings that prevent women and girls from achieving their dreams and getting to where they want to get to or be.
“It is important that girls are given the opportunity to go to school and be given the chance to achieve their full potential,” she said.
Education as cornerstone
The Keynote Speaker and former Minister of Education, Dr. ObyEzekwesili, on her part stated that, “Amongst obstacles such as cultural, social, religious, and self -imposed political barriers that prevent women from self-development and development of the society, education is the cornerstone of those barriers.
“The lack of access to education for women and girls is a fundamental barrier and the strongest glass ceiling to women’s advancement.”
She noted that, “It is empirically established across regions of the world that the pattern in school enrolment ratio and literacy are divided along gender lines as the enrolment ratio of boys is more than those of girls in schools.
“As a result, this sets a stage for disparities and inequalities for women leading to unequal access to social progress, economic and political powers.
“In a place like Nigeria, there are regional disparities in the gender conversation on education and disparities that happen because males and females do not show up in school on the same ratio such that in northern Nigeria it is three boys to one girl in school while in southern Nigeria we have local enclaves where more girls show up in school than boys. But globally on enrolment in schools, girls lag behind.
“This is essentially a problem because immediately you have these disparities the stage for inequality is set on equal access to power, economic rights to social progress, as these girls progress through life.”
The Guest Speaker, an international development professional and the Country Representative Nigeria Malala Fund, Ms. Crystal Ikanih-Musa, quoted former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano stating: “women and girls are Africa’s greatest untapped resource, and it is they, not diamonds or oil and minerals, that will be the foundation for solid, sustainable, and equitable progress.”
Ikanih-Musa added that, “When women and girls get formal education they influence country’s economy. Increasing the number of women who receive a secondary school education by 1 per cent increases a country’s economic growth by 0.3 per cent.
She stressed that women and girls have talents and once countries match that talent with formal education, there is no such thing as a glass ceiling.
Bridging gender gaps
For Ezekwesili Nigeria has about 7 per cent of women in political representation where the average representation of women in parliament is 24 per cent across the African continent.
She tied the poor development of women to the lack of education especially in Africa where women are groomed to be good wives than public figures.
The former minister said the gender gap in Nigeria was so deep and so wide in Africa so women with opportunities must use their voices and use it right.
“Women should mentor other women, push the boundaries and do whatever would be of value to the society. If girls and women are falling behind in access to education, there are roles that women themselves ought to play to address these challenges,” she said.
The former minister added that, “There is an inter-generational connection which is determined by education because a woman who is educated is more likely to be a woman who passes on education to the next generation of women and we know that women who have education make good choices for their children.”
She also noted that whatever income women make they usually invest 70 per cent on their children hence the children of educated women have a head start above children born by mothers who are not educated.
“Any society that does not emphasize the education of the girl-child will perpetually be in want. The glass ceiling can only be shattered to the extent that women who have education would rise up to understand that there is a role for them to play for the rest of the women left behind to be educated.”
Nigeria’s discriminatory pattern
Notwithstanding the fact that a couple of women have held leadership positions in the education sector including vice chancellors, registrars, as well as minister of education women’s poor representation in the sector has remained a barrier to more women and girls educational progress.
According to Ezekwesili, “Poor number of women in leadership positions, particularly in the education sector, mirrors a discriminatory pattern in the country.
“You hardly find many women in education leadership so they are unable to influence policies that would address the entrenched pattern of disparities working against girls and women being educated.
“Secondly, education has to be relevant, meaning as society advances; there is the need for women to adapt to changes that comes with it.
“The role of women should help us ensure that we do not repeat the pattern we saw in the traditional society and traditional economy. Women should not be left behind revolutions and they should be trained in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM),” she said.
Similarly, Ikanih-Musa while highlighting the effects of glass ceiling on the education of women and girls in Nigeria said that it puts a limit to how far girls and women can excel with society placing glass ceiling in an invisible manner from the family settings to communities to schools and even the workplace.
Addressing the barriers
Speaking further on how to address the barriers, Dr. Ezekwesili emphasized the role of women in education, describing it as critical as barriers to educational opportunities if not addressed could drag down the potential of women.
She maintained that, “Education is the basis for access to opportunities as societies that have achieved parity in education are societies that have done well economically.
“The economic performance of countries is determined by how well they have achieved gender inclusion in access to education. Thus, human development is at the epicenter of economic growth and development. Thus, if a country solely focuses on the development of its natural resources, as opposed to human development education, skills and competencies that country is more likely to be at the bottom rank of the global economic league table than nations that have emphasized access to quality education.
“So, if girls and women lack access to education it means women will be less productive than men, not because they do not have the capacity to compete with men but because they lack access to what men have had and this puts women at disadvantage so, we must think of how the role of women can change the situation.”
The former minister further emphasized the need for quality education as enshrined in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 – ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Ezekwesili called for significant attention on educational budgeting, urging that educational budgeting should put into consideration incentives that allow for parents to get education for girls to rise to the top such as enabling policies that stop economic challenges of girls going out to school.
According to her, “There should be a subsidy: a kind of contribution that will be made to the families of a married girl with children who wants to go to school. Such simple mechanism or interventions are important to women.”
She urged women and girls not to wait to be validated by the world; rather they should get validation from God and from within: “for me my validation was from God and from my husband who always supported me to aim higher,” she declared.
“I did not feel discriminated against at any time, I am resilient and only prove my competence in achieving results because I am a person with singularity of purpose.
“I also refuse to impose any kind of inferiority on myself no matter the patriarchy or misogynistic thinking. All I do is get rid of self-imposed constraints and be well equipped to stand confidently and education is the key to achieving that.
“Be courageous, fearless and let nothing hold you back. Collaborations is also good, women who are struggling to start a business should collaborate with other women and together achieve more instead of struggling alone,” she further stated.
On her part, Ikanih-Musa called on men and boys to be involved in the discussion about girl education, urging them to be allies who should stand by girls and women to speak up when girls need support just like Malala Yousafzai’s father who supported her.
“Women and girls are part of population and yet they are not looked at as part of the population. Also, by not addressing the barriers you keep them from rising so we need to count women and girls in.
“I have experienced girls face multiple disadvantages and so are more likely not to access an education but these barriers are different in each country and region.
“African women carry responsibility literally on their heads hawking it to feed their families and grow to desired heights. She always looks back to her home and community for support while pushing her children and spouse to greatness.
“Women invest their earnings into family so why not arm her with formal education and allow her compete in the labour market to lift herself and others,” she stressed.
The country director recommended that, “If no one invests in you as a female invest in yourself because you do not need to be rescued, rescue yourself by first changing your mindset to understand that you can be what you want to be and believe you can get education like the boys.”
She also emphasized the need for government and all stakeholders to ensure gender responsive policies in place particularly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic that when school reopen all girls are back in school.
“We must also ensure that girls get up to secondary education at the least, government should think about policies because we recall what happened during Ebola and we are projecting that about 10 million girls would not return to school after the Coronavirus pandemic.”
She urged participants to embrace gender equality by equipping men and women alike to enable them compete favourably, noting that gender norms were shifting, and women were taking seats at decision tables while also nurturing families.
Concluding, Ms. Izobo reiterated the fact that women play crucial role in addressing the barriers to education as women who are educated can specifically add their voice to issues of disparities and barriers in education for women and girls.
She added that women and girl education were the most useful means of reducing the inequalities between men and women and ensuring the full participation of women in the socio-economic development process.
She summed up stating, “We need to walk in our singularity of your purpose, we need to be confident, we need to be knowledgeable, we need to be of character, be purposeful, be fearless, and be courageous.”