SCENARIO NO. 1 (True stories) A fifteen-year-old girl had this experience: “I had this rare chance of going back to school when education was made free. However, my dreams were cut short when my parents decided to marry me off to their creditor without my consent. When I tried to resist, they threatened me with death”, she says amid sobs.
Another sixteen year old had her story: “I thought of becoming a doctor but my dreams were shattered when my father, a Maasai decided to marry me off so that she could get dowry to add to his riches. At the age of 14, I gave birth and almost died in the process”, she recalled bitterly. The girl, now is expecting her second child, she could not escape from poverty and her parents have nothing to show for the dowry they received.
SCENARIO NO. 2 (My creation) A young girl comes home sobbing. She has not been well for the past few days. The school nurse did some tests on her and found out that she is pregnant. She is so scared and does not know what to do.
The parents are understandably shocked and angry with their daughter. She is a bright student. Her mother did not know she even knew of sex. The girl explains to her parents in between sobs, that a young boy who was her close friend had told her, that it was normal for two people who loved each other to have sex. She just wanted to fit in.
Two weeks later, her parents come home beaming. They have found a solution to the problem. She will be married off as a third wife to a wealthy man. “He has even agreed to give us dowry, do you know that it is almost impossible to get dowry for a pregnant daughter,” the mother is pleased with herself.
The above scenarios are everyday stories we hear on our radios, watch on TV and read about in the newspapers and magazines. Young girls are undermined when it comes to formal education. The right of the girl-child to be educated is a fight that has come a long way in Kenya, and many battles have been won, but the war is not over. The traditional mentality harbored by some adults especially those in the rural setting has to be changed.
The government and civil societies have put measures to ensure the girl child can pursue her dreams through formal education. For example the government has taken some initiatives in the promotion of children’s education by enshrining this right in the Children’s Act, 2001. Unfortunately poverty and traditions keep dragging the girl back, and the arm of the law sometimes fails to come to the rescue of the rural girl child, who is so hidden from the rest of the world.
There are many incidences that occur in which young girls get pregnant in school, and the pregnancy marks the end of their education. Parents quickly marry them off, in the name of covering the 'shame'. And what about that man or boy who made the girl pregnant? What embarrassing mark does he bare?
A huge burden is placed on young girls. From childhood the girl is taught that she is different from the boy; that the boy is stronger than she is, that there are some things that a boy can do and get away with it but the same does not apply to her.
Sadly this mainly occurs in the rural areas. The rural girl-child is suffering. She lacks role models, to give her the strength to dream big and to help her fight for her rights. She is made to think that formal education is a privilege not a right. We live in an information driven world yet the rural girl child lacks information.
Education is vital. By providing equality in education the girls grow up knowing that there are not different from the boys. They will therefore not shy off from challenging positions in life, positions branded by the patriarchal society as too tough for a woman.
We now even have women presidents in Africa. There are women who are shakers and movers politically, economically and socially. But is the rural girl child aware of this? Education is the hammer to use to break various stigmatization that girls and women are subjected to. There should be more initiatives, campaigns mentorship programmes that target the rural young girl. They should be told stories of great women which will create in them the desire and the will to fight for their dreams. More needs to be done to help mould these young girls and help them realize the potential they have, despite the mistakes they may have made. A few years from now inequality based on gender should be a thing of the past.