This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, “inspiring change,” to a large extent resonates with the path taken by girl-child education in the country in recent years.
Gone are the days when girls who participated in education were few and had to work twice as much to be relevant in society.
Today, education for girls has been given priority in a bid to attain social equity and national development.
Although some people still think that girls have a long way to go in terms of education; both at primary and secondary level, the sector has made considerable achievements toward millennium development goals in promoting gender equality, women empowerment as well as universal primary education.
Statistics from the ministry of education show that there is almost an equal gender participation in education — a development that was rare in the past with odds stacked against girls.
In 2012, the ministry of education recorded 97.5 per cent enrollment for girls at primary level and another big percentage at secondary level.
Going by a UNICEF report published in 2012, Rwanda has the highest enrollment rates in primary education in Africa. The country has also registered success in observing gender parity; with girls’ net enrolment rate of 98% compared with 95% for boys.
Eugenie Mukantagara, the principal of G.S Kamabuye in Bugesera district, recently told a group of Silicon Valley-based guests, that of late, she has seen a decline in the number of girls dropping out of school and absenteeism. This, she said, had significantly improved the performance of girls in class.
Education officials say one of the reasons school dropout, absenteeism and teenage pregnancies have dropped is the introduction of special girls’ chambers where they are facilitated during their menstruation period and advised on female reproductive health.
“Because of that arrangement, we have witnessed a change in their academic performance since they spend more time in school,” Mukantagara noted.
Although keeping girls in school seems a small achievement, it has had a major impact on their performance in school.
State Minister in charge of Primary and Secondary Education Dr. Mathias Harebamungu says the sanitary pads initiative has played a key role in boosting girls’ education.
“The sanitary pad initiative is one of the initiatives of the ministry of education to see more girls empowered. We should also be proud of what has been done by the Imbuto Foundation to empower girls. The programme that rewards best performing girls has boosted girls performance in education,” the minister said.
He said that because of political will and commitment by the government to the cause of the girl-child, various partners have come on board to support that vision.
“We have achieved the gender parity millennium development goal. In our statistics, be it in primary or secondary education, the percentage of girls in schools is above 50 per cent. This is great progress towards achieving millennium development goals. The net enrollment is about 98 per cent for girls which fairs well not only in Africa but on a global level,” Harebamungu says.
The girls’ education policy has also been behind all these interventions that have seen more girls free and more comfortable in school.
A research paper presented at the South African association of women graduates conference by Allison Huggins and Shirley Randall titled “Gender equality in education in Rwanda: What is happening to our girls?” in 2008 seemed to have also gotten the attention of some stakeholders who crafted tailor-made intervention mechanisms.
“A number of social factors including traditional gender roles such as domestic roles and family care entrench girls under performance throughout their schooling. This has a cyclical effect as low performance in primary leaving exams results in girls being admitted to lower quality secondary schools and ultimately to higher education institutions in lower numbers.”
The research paper suggested that lack of female role models could have had a hand in the poor performance of girls. The girls lacked someone to look up to and see that it was possible for them to get to the heights they wished.
But to fill this gap, several private initiatives from girls and women who have had successful careers in various fields have emerged. Some of them like Girls in ICT and Tech-women, Nyampinga target girls while they are still in secondary school and offer them role models to inspire and motivate them.
From some of the groups’ testimonies, working with girls around the country brought out the reality that most girls lack exposure and positive role models and are likely to grow up with a mentality that they are inferior.
During a previous interview with The New Times, Vanessa Umutoni, an active member of one of the initiatives, said changes in mindset and attitude were going a long way in boosting the girls’ motivation.
“I saw that most of them lack exposure and also suffered from inferiority complex but after working with them over a short of time, one could see them begin to change their attitudes over what they previously considered complex. More awareness to awaken girls and show them that they have equal opportunities as their male counter parts will go a long way to change their attitudes and mindsets which will in-turn improve their performance. Such kinds of campaigns will have lasting impacts on the beneficiaries,” Umutoni said.
The girl empowerment campaigns and initiatives have been lauded by the president and CEO of Women for Women International Afshan Khan, an international NGO that works in post-conflict countries. The NGO has for the last 17 years engaged in empowering women, socially and economically in Rwanda.
She says the initiatives are a powerful and effective tool to boost girls performance and an opportunity to show them the possibilities that lay ahead.
These networks will enable the younger ones take interest and see the opportunities available for them. Mentoring plays a huge role to younger women. It gives a chance to see the possibilities and opportunities available.”
Rwanda is now considered a model in girl-child participation in education. There are a few setbacks and challenges, but the progress has so far inspired change.
What do you think about girl education?
Shamim Mwiza, a student
I believe girls and women have been given equal opportunities like boys and men. For instance more women have been empowered and have the courage to bargain for more in marriage, society affairs and raising their children.
Prudence Hategekimana, a student
A girl who combines education and the natural compassion given to them by God makes girls the best human beings to work with. They (women) are fruitful and share ‘ubuntu’ which is a basis for fighting social evil.