Schools opened for the first term a fortnight ago but for 13-year-old Sithembile Moyo from Goredema in Gokwe North who completed her Grade Seven last year, hopes of pursuing her education were shattered.
Gender Lens with Moses Mugugunyeki
Her parents said they could not afford paying her secondary school fees.
Sithembile said she was keen to further her education but her father decided to pay school fees for her brother, who is doing Form Two now.
Her predicament symbolises the challenges faced by many girls of her age in most rural communities who have been denied the opportunity to learn for the benefit of the boy child.
Most of these girls, especially in rural communities are now compelled to work as domestic workers and do other informal jobs in towns.
They end up going to the cities because they have always received a wooden spoon from their parents when it comes to education.
The girls have become victims of discrimination as parents or guardians opt to send boys to school especially higher education.
Due to this bigotry, the girls end up migrating to towns where most of them are employed as house maids or vendors.
“My father said he will not pay my school fees for my secondary education. He told me that I should join our neighbours who are house maids in the cities,” said Sithembile who passed Grade Seven with 8 units. “I have no choice but to wait for the neighbours and join them to the city when they visit their families for the Easter holiday.”
Despite increasing international recognition that the education of girls is one of the most powerful tools for progress, girls continue to suffer from discrimination.
According to the International Labour Organisation, of the 72 million primary children out of school, 44 million are girls.
Zimbabwe’s adult literacy rate of 96% makes it the highest in the region. However, women constitute 60% of the illiterate adult population and the school dropout rate, among female students, remains high. Enrolment at secondary school level and tertiary institutions is also significantly lower for females than for males.
The Zimbabwe Millennium Development Goals Progress Report for 2012 showed that, gender parity has been achieved at primary school enrolment but the trend is not maintained at secondary and tertiary levels.
While there is closer gender equality in enrolment in lower secondary school, girls experience higher dropout during key years of Form Three and Form Four (78% of girls drop out in Form Four as opposed to 75% of boys).
There can be a plethora of barriers to girls’ access to school. When families have limited resources, they may feel they have to choose between educating their sons or daughters.
However, Unicef Zimbabwe Gender Advisor, Anna Mutavati said government and society can come up with ways of improving girls’ education.
“Government can do this by making education affordable and accessible to all children, families are not forced to choose between paying school fees for the boy child or the girl child, when resources are scarce,” said Mutavati.
“Government needs to keep working on enhancing the quality of education, so that learners get the maximum benefit from staying in school and completing their education”.
There are cultural, social and economic issues that are causing gender imbalance in Gokwe where most families rely on farming.
“It is surprising to see a girl from our community further her education up to university level. Those who do that would have done their secondary education in towns,” said Enock Nyamadzawo, a village head in Goredema.
Today, over two thirds of the world’s 860 million illiterate people are women.
Educating girls, in particular, paves way for wider changes in families, societies and workplaces.
“Girls’ education is consistently associated with positive development outcomes such as reduced maternal mortality, smaller families and healthier children,” said Mutavati.
“Additionally when a girl is educated, when she becomes a mother, intergenerational poverty is broken, children are more likely to be sent to school, she is better able to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, she is better able to prevent or protect herself and her children from gender based violence and infant and child mortality is reduced, among other benefits”.
Due to the direct and indirect discrimination that girls and women experience, it is recommended that specific measures be taken to include facilitating access to education for girls in national plans, policies and programmes.
Mutavati said Unicef is supporting the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to regularly and closely monitor data from the education sector on such issues as gender disparities in enrolment, retention, completion and pass rates.
“This data enables us to raise the red flag when gender gaps are noticed, enabling appropriate and timely action to be taken,” she said.