Will She Make it? – Equality and Access

Osai
Posted May 14, 2015 from Nigeria
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Photo credit: Osai Ojigho

Equality is as much a question of access as it is about fairness. Access to opportunities is crucial to levelling the field between the genders. Access, more importantly, provides that a person’s circumstances do not detrimentally affect their chances for a better life or in the reverse disproportionately confer an advantage that perpetuates inequality.

While the No Ceilings: The Full Participation Report 2015 (http://noceilings.org/about/) i.e. the ‘No Ceilings Report’, begins with a positive note that ‘[T]here has never been a better time to be born female,’ it also presents data and evidence that shows that we are still a long way to closing the gaps in all areas and for all women and girls worldwide.

Education is a right

Article 12 of the protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (i.e. Maputo Protocol) states extensively the obligations of State parties to the protocol (currently 36 out of 54 African States, See: www.soawr.org). In particular, Article 12(2) urges positive actions by government in the areas of:

a) Women’s literacy; b) Education and Training for all particularly in the fields of science and technology; c) Girls enrolment and retention programmes for schools and support for those who leave school prematurely.

Access to education offers girls the greatest opportunity to rise above poverty and live a more fulfilling and healthier life. The reality for many countries in Africa is that while primary school enrolment and retention for girls is almost at par with boys, there is a wider gap in secondary schooling (No Ceilings Report p.10)

The lottery of birth

Where and when one is born is a stroke of luck. But we find that this crucial timing has an impact on not only survival but access to opportunities. This is very evident for example when you compare women and girls equality rights in countries in Western Europe compared to those in Africa. However, more often than not the differences within different groups of women and girls in one country can be so far from the picture displayed at the global level. This is because even in a country with dismal women’s human rights records, there are some women who have better protection and more access than others.

Looking at the data available for Nigeria, it is clear that boys and girls from rich families have over 90% completion rate in primary and secondary schools. Children from poorer families have a lower secondary completion rate of about 45% for boys and shocking 15% for girls. (No Ceiling’s Report, p11). Nigeria is a large country with an estimated population of about 170 million people. There are regional differences in the 6-geo political zones of the South-West, South-East, South-South, North Central, North-West and North-East. It will help to interrogate regional differences to have a clearer understanding of the education challenge. Therefore as a girl, your options for education is dependent on where you come from – the North or South; and if your family is rich or poor.

When in April 2014 over 200 girls were abducted from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State in Nigeria by Boko Haram – It shattered some of the gains made in education of girls in Northern Nigeria. As many families reacted to the abduction by keeping their daughters at home. Compared to the South, the North has higher levels of poverty. The Gender in Nigeria Report 2012 (http://bit.ly/1A3cxrR) states that poverty level in North-Eastern Nigeria was 72% compared to 26% in the South-Eastern part of the Country. Poverty including more restrictive religious practices and higher incidences of child marriage in Northern Nigeria meant that girls were more likely not to complete secondary school in Northern Nigeria compared to girls from the more liberal and more developed South of the Country.

In fact, many families from Northern Nigeria believed that the best way to protect their girl children from illicit sex and harassment was to keep them at home. The abduction of school girls and the recent rescue of women and girls at a Boko Haram hideout in Sambisa Forest (http://bit.ly/1FnyvYz) has increased fears for women especially girls safety. These considerations will have to be put in perspective when designing education drive or retention programmes to increase parents’ confidence in the education system and provide safe and secure spaces for girls in schools.

The year is 2015 and two girls are born 1 January 2015; Khadija to a family of eight in a village in Yobe State in North-East Nigeria while Ifeoma is born to a family of three living in the suburbs in Imo State in South-East Nigeria. Both have the opportunity to gain from the work done on gender equality and women’s human since 1995 and even earlier. However the reality is that both will have different access and the circumstances of their birth has determined to a large extent who will have an easier route to equality.

Conclusion

Inequalities exist even within the same group. We must recognise that women and girls are not a homogenous group and policies and interventions should be flexible and innovative enough to cater to the needs of such a diverse group.

A first step is providing primary and secondary education for free or at a highly subsidized rate by the State. The quality of public education is dependent on investment and investment in women and girls have a multiplier effect (No Ceilings’ report 2015). Next is to ensure that places of learning are safe and secure for girls. An enabling environment where there is no fear of humiliation, violence, abuse will ensure that girls thrive, stay longer in school and entrench principles of gender equality. Having a good education opens doors, is empowering and the entire society benefits.

Will Khadija make it? This depends on how we hold our governments accountable for the promises they have made and the regional and international human rights treaties they have signed. It also means that we recognise that Khadija requires more support to succeed and therefore school programmes should be designed to include programmes for vulnerable girls and training for educators, teachers and support staff on monitoring performance and retention of girls in school.

Everyone desires a better life; education provides one of the most effective tools for achieving that.

The Path to Participation Initiative from World Pulse and No Ceilings

Comments 10

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Alyssa Rust
May 16, 2015
May 16, 2015

Dear Osai,

Thank you so much for sharing. I really enjoyed reading your post and agree that access is affects creating equality. I thought your post was really great with information mixed in with stories of what is occurring specifically in Nigeria when it comes to education. Thanks again for sharing.

Sincerely, Alyssa Rust 

Osai
May 17, 2015
May 17, 2015

Dear Alyssa,

Thank you too for reading. I know there is so much going on around strengthening equality for all but were there are opportunities, we need to monitor if everyone can tap into them. It is amazing how many factors can prevent the most vulnerable from getting access to these opportunities. Knowledge of them is one and this is what I hope can change when implementing equality laws and policies.

Best wishes,  Osai

Lylinaguas
May 17, 2015
May 17, 2015

Hello Osai!

I agree with you that education is a right.  You're also right that there are obstacles that hinder many from achieving this. We have been fighting for so long to achieve education for everyone especially females     who have less access to it. I have read of children walking for miles and crossing rivers just to get to the nearest school making them vulnerable to many possible dangers. 

Many non government organizations have initiated moves and programs to make education more accessible, to encourage families to give their children the  education they need. But this is not enough. Government also has to make sure this happens by making education more accessible. Collaboration between government and the community,  changing the mindset of people and political will can bring us a step closer to achieving this. 

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Good article!:)

Osai
May 17, 2015
May 17, 2015

Thanks Lylin.

You said it all. Educating our girls is a collective effort and we all should be doing it together. Someone has to take the lead and this is the government while other groups/individuals support.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Best,

Osai

coolasas
May 17, 2015
May 17, 2015

Hello Osai, 

I've been advocating for accessibility all my professional life -- for access to their basic rights and it’s never easy, I still don't have a tangible experience where the challenges are met. The very few success stories are being drowned by those unsuccessful ones and that’s the reality especially for the poor (disability being a cause and effect of poverty).

Many government made education to ensure "Education for All" and to entice families and children to attend school, Unicef and WFP started the breakfast club so that they will get at least 1 full nutritious meal (if you can call rice and beans everyday nutritious). But then again, the question of how will I get there? remains unanswered. A question that is crucial to the achievement of education for all.

Transport, access road, appropriate assistive technology, accessible environment, personal assistance, special education teachers, materials, food, attitude, economics etc. are just some of the issues around access to education. It has been presented, discussed, solutions been designed but it seems like it’s a perennial problem – not sustainable to be weaved into an existing functional system because girls are still not completing primary and secondary education, children with disabilities are not going to school, the social divide between the rich and poor is getting wider and education is still not for all because there are still children left behind.

What can be done? Back to the drawing table and see how and what exist can be translated into sustainable action and dedicate to making sure that the impact is felt in a decade.

Let's get on with it ... together! 

Regards, Coolasas

Osai
May 29, 2015
May 29, 2015

Dear Coolas,

Thanks for your comments. I do agree with you that the main challenge on the table is actioning. It is frustrating when we do not see the impact that we want to see. And many times, 'access' is all that is needed to balance inequality and promote opportunity.

Best regards,

Osai

Ma. Guzman-Callano
May 21, 2015
May 21, 2015

This is one informative, well-thought out and clearly written piece, Osai!  Congratulations for being able to convey your belief on education as a human right. My heart goes out to  the Nigerian girls who are deprived of the opportunity to go to school and live a normal life.

There must be something that can be done to reverse this sad reality. If parents fear for their young daughter and thus want to keep them home, then the Nigerian Government can perhaps instutionalize home schooling. This is just one wild idea to help solve the problem. There are more solutions for sure.

Again, thanks for sharing your story, Osai!  

Osai
May 29, 2015
May 29, 2015

Dear Lydia,

Home schooling can be an option but where the parent does not have the necessary education or literacy as well then there comes a need to employ a teacher to teach. Time will be another factor, as many of these parents work outside the home - on farms or trade in order to feed their families. In the situation, the best seems to be that the Nigerian government has to make schools safe for all - especially girls as this is a public service they owe the citizens.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Best regards, Osai

lauren5848
May 28, 2015
May 28, 2015

Wow, Osai!

Thank you so much for this informative and deeply reflective piece. Discussing in-group inequalities and disparities is so important because those differences often go undisclosed. Subtle differences in access to resources can explain deeper inequalities that occur within that community. As you say, "Inequalities exist even within the same group. We must recognise that women and girls are not a homogenous group and policies and interventions should be flexible and innovative enough to cater to the needs of such a diverse group". I wish (and hope) that more people will begin thinking in the manner of intersectional outcomes and access to resources.

You offer many wonderful solutions and I hope to see them implemented in the future. Your voice is valuable and I see you making a great deal of change for women and girls in the world.

Sincerely,

Lauren Frei

Osai
May 29, 2015
May 29, 2015

Dear Lauren,

Thanks so much. I hope that as long as we highlight the similarities as well as the differences, we will begin to influence the policy makers who make the decisions that impact on women and girls' lives.

Best regards, Osai