Gender discrimination leaves the girl lagging behind in education

Girls reciting a poem during a public event in Kilifi town. Many girls in Kilifi county do not enjoy their right to education because of poverty , early pregnancy and retrogressive culture.Picture:Dianarose Odhiambo
Girls reciting a poem during a public event in Kilifi town. Many girls in Kilifi county do not enjoy their right to education because of poverty , early pregnancy and retrogressive culture.Picture:Dianarose Odhiambo

Culture and poverty remain the biggest threats to the education of girls in Kilifi County.

Every year hundreds of girls like 14-year-old Sera Nyadzua Wasi are forced to either drop out of school temporarily or discontinue completely because of negative cultural beliefs that discourage girls from attaining the highest level of education as well as lack of school fees.

This is despite millions of shillings set aside in devolved funds and the national government policy towards free primary education in all public schools in line with the United National Millennium Development Goals.

Nyadzua sat for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations for the first time in 2013 and excelled to join secondary school. However, her father could not raise fees and instead encouraged her to repeat class 8 in 2014, as he looked for money.

When the 2014 KCPE results were out, luck was still on her side, she obtained 335 marks out of the possible 500, but the school fees remained a persistent headache for her father, David Wasi Charo, who was unable to raise the money.

It took Charo three months to mobilise resources with support from close relatives and friends.

“My daughter has been persevering and diligent in her studies and this is what motivated me to take her to school,” says Charo, a father of six children.

In Mwakuhenga Village, Kilifi County, Nyadzua is among the few girls who could be counted as literate. Most girls drop out of school due to teenage pregnancies or discontinue their education for lack of fees.

At this point many parents are left with no option other than to marry them off to suitors, most of who are also not educated.

“Our parents never taught us the value of education and this has been going on through generations. This is why the poverty index in Kilifi County is high,” explains Charo.

In Kilifi County, out of the 26,000 candidates who sat for the KCPE examination, 10,000 got more than 200 marks. According to a report by the Kilifi Education Board, over 80 percent of them were unable to join a secondary school.

Prof Gabriel Katana, chairman Kilifi County Education Board, says most parents depend on donors and well-wishers instead of finding means to finance their children’s education.

Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, the girl’s education is not given priority and they are left at the mercy of availability of sponsors. The stereotype is still thriving hence girls are given are never the first option whenever an education opportunity arises.

According to County Executive Committee (CEC) member for Education, Salma Muhiddin Ahmed, Kilifi receives KSh350 million for scholarships with every ward being allocated KSh10 million. However, this is just a drop in the ocean since more students require the funds.

In the scramble for the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), most parents opt to front boys for the scholarships. This has affected the levels of education among girls, who end up doing menial jobs or being married off early.

It is almost the norm for girls to be asked to give way for their brothers whenever it comes to getting an education. The faint hearted opt for the easy way out, rather than wait endlessly for their brothers to complete school.

On her part, Nyadzua had to repeat Standard Eight twice for her brother to go school since their father could not shoulder the school fees burden for both of them at the same time.

Nyadzua is lucky to have a father who understands the importance of education in as much as he is facing challenges, he tries to raise school fees for all his children irrespective of their sex.

In Mwakuhenga Village, girls have very few role models or someone they can look up to as a mentor.

“If our girls get equal opportunities with their brothers, then poverty will be a thing of the past here,” says Emmanuel Kibao, a resident of Mwakuhenga Village. He notes: “Our parents believed education was only for those who wanted to do away with culture and that is why they never encouraged people to go to school.”

As the academic year comes to an end, Katana hopes that this time round parents who have candidates will have saved funds in advance for their children’s education next year.

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