“Educate a Woman, You Educate a Nation” – South Africa Aims to Improve its Education for Girls
LYS ANZIA – WNN Features
“Educate a woman, you educate a nation,” said Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the 4th annual Women’s Parliament Conference in Cape Town, Africa on Tuesday, 28 Aug. 2007, as she spoke out on the importance for girls education.
Working with Cape Town’s programs to improve conditions for women, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Elizabeth Thabethe, has started a new finance program to empower women entrepreneurs, “The Women Entrepreneurs Fund” which has been developed to help educate women to create businesses of their own to provide independence and education opportunities.
Education in Africa for women has faced a hard tide with a history of conservative patriarchal customs that have caused tribal cultures to many times marginalize girls education, placing it at the bottom of the list. Traditions of early marriage, women focusing on family management and less access to the use of information from today’s technology has created gender gaps in certain areas of Africa, especially the northern regions.
According to UN statistics, South Africa, of all African regions today, has the highest percentage of children who are given greater access to education at the primary level. Children attending school at the primary level go from 96% to 70% at the secondary level, then on to a drastic drop of 7% participation at the college level. Unfortunately participation for girls and women come in less numbers than these UN statistics show as many girls are kept from school to work and many girls marry and are encouraged to give up their education to have children.
UNICEF has also reported that despite improvements from a new democracy in 1994 which improved many economic conditions, education is still out of reach due to poverty and a 25.2 % unemployment rate. Opportunities for girls education on all levels are especially challenged as UNICEF reports, “Many schools are not child or girl friendly. Some are situated far from homes, exposing girls to danger when they walk to and from school. Girls trying to stay in school are also at risk of being sexually harassed and exploited in schools by teachers and fellow students.”
The unsettling 2006 Report of the Public Hearing on the Right to Basic Education states: “Of great concern were the accounts of teachers taking advantage of their positions of authority and coercing sex from girls. An example was given of a learner coming late and having to exchange sex with a teacher in order to be allowed onto the school premises that had been locked.”
Other very difficult conditions for girls are magnified as many schools do not have separate bathrooms for girls and boys – which leads to great vulnerability for girls in schools as they deal with low self-esteem in the face of the dangers of sexual harassments and assaults in non-supervised rooms.
School authorities rarely challenge the perpetrators, and many girls interrupt their education or leave school altogether because they feel vulnerable to sexual assault, Human Rights Watch said. “Girls are learning that sexual violence and abuse are an inescapable part of going to school every day — so they don’t go,” said Erika George, counsel to the Academic Freedom Program at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. “South African officials say they’re committed to educational equality. If they mean it, they must address the problem of sexual violence in schools, without delay.”
Today the GEM – Girls Education Movement – is attempting to turn the tide that makes it so hard for girls to stay in school under the conditions described. GEM works to improve these conditions and to guide girls in school to continue on, especially to receive a higher education.
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