Lagos – Antonia, 16, a participant of Empowering Women of the Future (EWOF) (a flagship project of ASHA Initiative) cannot return to school. Like many girls in her community Ajegunle – an urban slum in Lagos, her school’s management expelled her due to pregnancy. Like Antonia, more and more girls are dropping out of school due to expulsion and stigmatization that soon follows. Such disciplinary action, which many argue is necessary, infringes on a basic right of every girl child: the right to education. Nigeria and the world are experiencing an increase in the number of teenage pregnancy and motherhood. No wonder the theme for the 2013 World Population Day on July 11, was centred on “Adolescent Pregnancy”. In making education accessible and affordable to all girls, the government and stakeholders must remove obstacles that prevent girls from receiving education. Some of the key barriers are: • The lack of Government policy on inclusivity especially of rural residents, out of school girls and the disabled; • Lack of flexible curriculum for pregnant and disabled girls whose ability to attend classes is limited due to time conflict; • The slow adoption of technology due to either its availability or affordability; • The continued use of outdated school curriculum that is not flexible enough to allow home-schooling or other convenient informal education delivery methods and systems; • Expulsion from school and stigmatization of pregnant teenage girls by their teachers and/or fellow students suggest that these girls suffer in the hands of people and institutions who should care about their future; • The cost of basic education, books and materials is highly prohibitive. This is even worse for girls with minimal means; • There is high unemployment of unskilled people who in most cases happen to be the parents of these teenage girls and young women. This exposes them to sexual exploitation and trafficking for economic reasons.
As we celebrate the international day of the girl child this week, ASHA Initiative enjoins all to promote girls education and empowerment with the following recommendations: • Advocacy: By promoting the voices of girls and women in underserved communities, we will continue to direct the attention of the government, and relevant organizations to the needs of pregnant and disabled teenage girls. • Partnering and Collaborating: with telecommunication companies and educational establishments means that EWOF can bring technology and online education to poor girls in rural areas free of charge. • Liaising: with State and Federal Government Education Boards to design an inclusive curriculum that reflects the diverse need of society thus enabling girls have different options of acquiring education. • Campaigns, Sensitization and Reorientation: of the views and attitudes of schoolteachers and students towards young mothers returning to full time education need to change. Government and school authorities should reconsider the expulsion policy for pregnant students in favour of measures that promote literacy. • Flexible, Evening and Online School: ASHA’S vision through EWOF is to run a flexible school with online presence to meet the needs of “drop-out” teenage girls and young mothers.