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Gifts to the world

By Miriam Mukama

Women’s Day theme shows benefits of educating the girl child

Ajok Eva just got 20 points in the recently released Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE). She is happy but not satisfied with her results, she thinks she would have done better if only she had enough resources.

But just as she starts the story of her journey in school, one gets an impression that she has every reason to celebrate.

“My dad almost married me off to a 60-year old man, simply because he couldn’t afford to complete my school fees,” she narrates, “I pleaded with him to let me go to school because it would hurt me if i missed out on my senior six examinations and all he could tell me is, how many times will I tell you that I cannot afford that?”

But Ajok would never give up. She says she reported the matter to the chairman of their area local council, who convinced her father to keep her in school and also offered to give her financial support.

Not all girls go through Ajok’s horrific experience. In fact, ever since Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) policies were established, many girl children have made it in school.

Government made basic education affordable to all children in Uganda by taking the responsibility of paying fees, building school infrastructure, and providing other materials in primary schools. This relieved parents of the cost associated with keeping children in school.

As a result, school facilities like classrooms were put up and class equipment provided which has improved the teaching and learning environment. The girl child has been the greatest beneficiary of these education policies.

This, educationists say, is largely because unlike in the past when parents preferred to pay school fees for only boys, with free education, many girls who could have been ignored or married off, can now attend school.

Since the implementation of UPE and USE, Uganda has had more girls register at all levels of education.

Just in 2011 alone, the Uganda National Examinations Board registered 124,208 girls for their Uganda certificate of education (UCE) examinations where girls performed better than the boys. For Uganda advanced certificate of education (UACE), 42,341 female candidates were registered unlike 40,856 in 2010.

“There has been an improvement in the enrollment and performance of girls especially at primary and secondary level which is very good,” says Monicah Amoding, the National Youth MP.

She says, however, although the level at which girls are enrolled in schools now and at University is very high, they still face certain challenges. The government of Uganda is still struggling to ensure that all girls are educated at all levels of education and create a positive environment for them to reach their full potential.

Catherine Kanabahita Guma, the deputy registrar and head of Gender Mainstreaming Division at Makerere University in Kampala says because policies are more favourable to girls than in the past, they have better access and prospects in education.

Since the 1990 and 1991 academic years, all female applicants to public Universities are awarded 1.5 bonus points which is applied on entry, a measure that has increased the female population at universities like Makerere.

The challenges

But dropout rates remain unacceptably high, especially for girls. At the secondary level there are fewer than four girls enrolled for every five boys, according to the United Nations Children‘s Fund (UNICEF) report released in 2004.

A 2006 UNICEF report says that at least two-thirds of children enrolled in primary school do not complete their full primary education cycle, and a significant gender gap remains a critical factor in keeping girls out of school.

Experts say that girls in Uganda for the past few years have been struggling to attain good grades and but they have problems making life choices.

With some of them having opportunities to go to school, girls still face a challenge of early pregnancies and school drop outs.

Reports indicate that some girls get pregnant as early as age 12 and leave school to become mothers while others opt for abortions which is a major cause of deaths among young girls.

In some parts of Uganda, the education of a girl child is still not valued as they still make the boys look superior from the girls. This is the situation in districts of eastern and northern Uganda, especially in Karamoja. Girls become young wives and are married off to older men due to lack of finances to meet their needs in order to go to school.

One of the main reasons why most girls in Uganda still do not attend school is the lack of sensitisation of most people about girl child education especially those living in rural areas, lack of school necessities and infrastructures.

They all face similar struggles with domestic violence, sexual violence and cultural traditions that can hamper a girl’s education.

The message for this year’s Women’s Day celebrations is Connecting girls, inspiring futures. Gender activists say women and girls all over the world need to get together to recognise and strengthen the girl child’s right to knowledge and skills needed to advance their status. By educating girls, they say, the whole world gains.

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