I was writing an article on women in tech the other day and it suddenly dawned on me just how few of us there are. Yeah, I know, I know…it shouldn’t really have surprised me. The science and technology field hasn’t exactly been welcoming to us of the feminine persuasion. We’ve historically been steered way clear of any inclinations to become innovative inventors of the future Africa. Cool beans.
However, it occurred to me that even with all the orders from the patriarchal society we live in to stay away from laboratories and tech hubs, there should be way more than just a handful of rebellious, tenacious females fighting their way through the testosterone. With a 1:1 enrollment ratio in schools of boys to girls at kindergarten level, where were all the grown women who were supposed to be slayin’ misogynistic demons along with me?
Well, I asked and the answer was just too damn depressing.
Although the enrollment rates of boys and girls in primary schools have leveled off in some regions, girls’ chances of reaching the higher levels of education are considerably less than those of boys. When money is scarce, parents prefer to invest in their sons’ education to higher levels because of the anticipated economic returns. This implies that decisions made by households and families on educational investment are often gender-related. . Some parents believe that boys are more intelligent, that they perform better in school and that they are a better educational investment than girls. A factor that is often ignored in parental preference for boys’ education is the prevalence of patrilineal inheritance systems. As the prime beneficiaries of family assets, boys are favoured in human capital investment decisions.
In addition, parents worry about wasting money on the education of girls who are likely to get pregnant or married before completing their schooling. There is also the strong belief that once married, girls become part of another family and parental investment is lost. This explains why a lot of rural families and the urban poor stop investing on their girls as soon as they reach puberty as they are are viewed more as a liability than an asset. They are either married off to offset costs or become engaged in domestic labour to ensure the survival of the household.
Apart from being denied access to higher education and being forced to engage in child labour as a consquence of the great sin that is poverty, there’s a class of girls in school that never get the chance to fully absorb the teaching that’s offered once they sit behind a desk.
And it’s not just lack of access either. Our sociocultural programming has made sure that we treat the female biological clock like a taboo; girls on their period are regarded as unclean and ostracized in accordance to regressive African traditions and religious beliefs. In rural Kenya, girls who are normally active classroom participants sit in the back because they are worried about emitting an odor or leaking through their clothes while menstruating. And some African communities actually actively propagate the idea that menstuation is a curse! A curse people!!!
Apparently we still live in the 15th century where little girls, as soon as they reach their menarche (the first menstrual cycle); the central event of female puberty, are forced into a state of shame that disrupts all normal learning from then henceforth. Poverty and a lack of access is keeping a huuuge percentage of important talent from developing.
Just how much are we missing out?
- One in 10 African adolescent girls miss school during menses and eventually drop out because of menstruation-related issues.
Kenyan adolescent girls are losing an average of 3.5 million learning days per month! I don’t know about you but I just can’t with that number!
A young woman can get her first period anywhere between 10 and 16 years of age. Do you remember how hopeful and impressionable you were at that age? Now imagine being told you don’t deserve dreams, happiness or advancement because your body is cursed, sinning, dirty!!! A celebration, that “Yay, I’m not pregnant.” becomes, “Oh no! I’ll fail my exam again.” Damned if they do. Damned if they don’t. (Do being they get pregnant because of inadequate sexual and reproductive health ed and they have to quit school to look after their baby *sigh*)
No one deserves for their biology, meant to be a source of pride at maturity, to be a hindrance to their advancement as an individual. It is crucial that educationalists undertake to challenge retrogressive attitudes, especially those pertaining to the female body and its alleged limitations in terms of strength, skill and intellect.
Always ‘Stand up and keep a girl in school’ campaign is an initiative courtesy of Always sanitary pads to ensure that girls do not miss school because of their periods. This is the second in a 2 part series of articles meant to inspire girls to be whatever they dream to be, have high esteem, get a good education and go on to be young empowered and successful women.
Read the first part of the series here.