More than88,000 of the candidates who sat Primary Leaving Examinations last month were girls, representing a 7 per cent edge over their male counterparts. This is the same trend at other stages of education, where girls are increasing in numbers and the dropout rate for girls is also reducing at primary, secondary and higher levels of education. The trend is being attributed to different initiatives introduced to help keep girls in school such as the Girls’ Education Policy and its strategic plan that was adopted in 2008. Marc Hategekimana, the head teacher of Groupe Scolaire Kabuga, in Gasabo District, said the number of girls that sat the 2014 PLE were 84 against 153 enrolled for Primary One in 2009. “Besides a number of girls that repeated classes over the last six years, the majority of them went to other schools,” Hategekimana said. “We are lucky in Kabuga, social welfare counsellors always monitor and follow up on children who are not going to school given that education is free. The parents are always encouraged to send their children to school and this is compulsory for both girls and boys.” He added that 12-Year Basic Education has had a positive impact on children from non-well off families, especially girls who were forced to stay home as their brothers went to school. In the secondary section, the girls that are sitting for the ordinary level national examinations are 101 although a total of 127 girls had enrolled in senior one in 2012. Early pregnancy “Most of the girls that are not sitting the final exams with us changed schools when their families shifted to other areas. However, we have two girls that got pregnant,” Hategekimana revealed, adding that the said pupils would resume studies at the school later. To close the gender gap in education and reduce the drop-out rate for girls, the government and stakeholders have adopted a number of strategies to reduce early pregnancies, which is one of the major reasons behind the dropping out of girls. In the past, girls were penalised for getting pregnant and suspended from school because they were thought to be bad influence on their peers, but nowadays there are more progressive measures taken for rehabilitate and reintegrate the girls after they have delvered their babies. Lydia Mitali, the in-charge of girls education at the Ministry of Education, told The New Times that there are several interventions to increase the enrolment of girls at all levels, the girls education policy guides and promotes equal access of girls and young women to all levels of education. “The policy, adopted in 2008, is a sustainable tool aimed at the progressive elimination of gender disparities in education and training as well as in management structures,” Mitali said. “It also ensures ways to overcome traditional attitudes hampering women and girls fully enjoying their right to education.” Sanitation facilities Mitali said the ministry conducted a study on factors influencing poor performance of school children, especially girls, and found that sanitary facilities was a very critical issue leading to late arrivals, absenteeism and drop outs. Students at FAWE girls school read a magazine. She said as a way of dealing with sanitation issue, government advocated for the construction of sanitation rooms containing first aid equipment for young girls (girls’ rooms) faced with issues of menstruation and separate toilets for both boys and girls in most of primary schools in the country. “The girls’ room has allowed a sizable number of girls to continue with education because a number of them would previously miss school every month when they were in menstruation period,” she said. “Also, campaigns about prevention of early pregnancies have been rolled out.” Among these, Mitali said is giving adequate information about reproductive health to adolescent girls while encouraging parents to partake sexual education with their children was essential. Mentorship programmes facilitated by role models have also helped keeping girls in school as well as inspiring girls to break the gender stereotypes and adventure in traditionally male-dominated fields, especially sciences. ActionAid Rwanda, a development partner, has various initiatives that seek to promote the education of girls. Josephine Uwamariya, the ActionAid country director, said there were still challenges, including cases where some girls act as helpers to their mothers to do unpaid care work such as child care. “Some girls are lured out of school in rural areas and go to towns to work for money as house-helps,” she said, adding that the organisation is currently working with 49 schools in “our areas of operation regarding girl child education.” “To address issues of gender-based violence and build girls motivation to stay in school, clubs have been established to provide a platform for girls to reflect and debate on issues that affect their education,” Uwamariya said. She added that raising awareness on child’s rights and GBV as well as reproductive health rights has empowered the girls to be aware of their rights and demand for them. “When a girl knows her rights, she protects herself against violence or reports those who violate her rights. Actionaid also trains teachers and parents committees empowering them for their increased participation in school management,” Uwamariya said. “This enables them to demand quality service delivery, including putting in place systems and structures to ensure girls safety at school, protecting all children from violence and full participation by both girls and boys in different school activities.” She called for mechanisms to stop migration from rural areas for odd jobs in towns, and human trafficking of which girls are the majority victims.