The month of March celebrates women, their challenges, marks and milestones—particularly in their commendable journey to a more gender-balanced world. While much has been attained in the fight for equality; there are still numerous issues that are being faced by women, for example, limited access to education, a concern that not only prevents them from fulfilling their potential, but deters a nation’s development at large.
Data from UN Women website indicates that 51 per cent of women are literate. In 24 low-income countries, only 34 per cent of girls in the poorest of households complete primary school, compared with 72 per cent of girls in the richest of households.
Women’s access to education encourages investments in knowledge and creativity.
In Rwanda though, 85 per cent of all girls aged six and above have ever attended school. 50 per cent of females have not completed primary education and 4.5 per cent of females have attained upper secondary school, this is according to The Fifth Integrated Household Living Survey (EICV5).
Nonetheless, much is yet to be done to ensure remarkable literacy rates among women.
Panelists emphasised that girls’ and women’s literacy is a right that should be respected and promoted by all men and women. Courtesy photo
A forum was held earlier this month in line with this matter. It was the 12th edition of ‘Reading for change’, a monthly event that is organised by Afflatus Africa with the aim of promoting a reading culture.
This event’s theme ‘the role of girls and women’s literacy in achieving sustainable development’ gave a platform for participants to share opinions on what needs to be done to attain visible rates of literacy among women.
Prof Jolly Mazimpaka says literacy has with no doubt a positive impact on the individual, the family and society.
It is imperative for girls to have access to basic education.
Having developed a reading culture at an early age, Mazimpaka says the habit helped her develop important skills, such as curiosity, which she says leads to knowledge and a very strong imagination—skills that have had great influence in her life.
Clement Kirenga, the programme manager, human rights and democracy at the embassy focal point for gender at the Swedish Embassy in Rwanda, notes that when women access education, there is economic growth because their creativity and critical thinking skills increase, which in turn reduces poverty rates.
In terms of social undertakings, he says women become independent and that this reduces on issues such as early marriages and sexual harassment, for if girls are empowered through literacy, they can take control of their lives.
“Young girls’ engagement begins now, not in the future. With access to education, there is increment of civic engagement on the side of women,” Kirenga says.
Former Miss Rwanda Jolly Mutesi says that when women are empowered through access to education, it helps in the reduction of hunger and poverty rates.
“Having women educated is one way of tackling gender inequality issues and a catalyst for change in their lives, families, communities and the world. It is also key for the world to deliver on all sustainable development goals because they are all interconnected,” she says.
Though Rwanda is doing incredibly well in terms of promoting girls and women literacy, we still need to put in more effort in sensitisation, especially in remote areas, to have an even better ranking in women literacy, Mutesi adds.
Why this matters for development
According to a study by UNESCO, educated women are less likely to die in childbirth: If all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds, saving 98,000 lives.
The study goes on to highlight that in Sub-Saharan Africa, if all women completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by 70 per cent saving almost 50,000 lives. Educating girls can save millions of lives: If all women had a primary education, there would be 15 per cent fewer child deaths and that if all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving three million lives.
Feminist Edwin Ganza supplements this by saying that achieving equality and development will be hard when women have limited chances of attaining education.
He says, the important of this rotates around the fact that literate women are independent and prudent enough to make important decisions that benefit families and societies at large.
“It is easy for a woman to be economically empowered if they are educated. This helps them to fight poverty; they are equipped with enough knowledge on how to groom their children with the right values. Such women are equipped with knowledge on matters such as health care, something that facilitates proper feeding of children, good care during pregnancy among other things,” he says.
Ganza is also of the view that there can be limited chances of cases of gender-based violence happening because when women are educated, they know their rights and are likely not to accept such treatment from their male counterparts.
Gender activist Amina Umuhoza emphasises the relevance of women accessing education, saying that when women have access to this right, they get a chance to be citizens that can contribute to the development of a nation.
“Education will equip women with the necessary tools to take part in decision making and compete on the job market.”
What can be done to improve girls’ access to education?
Umuhoza is of the view that the first thing that can be done is to remove all of those barriers that stand in the way, such as teen pregnancy, cases of early marriages, gender-based violence, among others.
“Because access to education should go beyond attending school, we should put in mind that for girls to feel safe about their future and the clear way forward after school, we need to address the aforementioned obstacles,” Umuhoza says.
Education for its own sake certainly has an intrinsic value, but education and training that proves useful is very essential. This is what women need to access in the first place, Kirenga notes.
He is, hence, of the view that there is need for creation of an environment that encourages investments in knowledge and creativity.
Education provides girls with job-relevant skills that employers actually demand, or that they can use in launching their own business,” he says.
“Girls and women’s literacy is a right that should be respected and promoted by all men and women in their benefit and the ultimate benefit of families, the nation and the globe but can only be sustained by involving them and believing in them.”
There should be parental involvement in all aspects. Parents must be willing to have their sons and daughters access education. They must also be willing to fight against certain vices such as teen pregnancies because these are some of the factors that sabotage girls from getting an education.
Penina Umutesi, Administrator
There is no doubt that educating girls is very important. This is why we need to provide a safe environment in school that is favourable for them. Let it be free from discrimination, let all students have equal rights regardless of their gender. This, I believe, can be one of the best ways to help women attain an education.
Robert Mugabe, Businessman
Girls’ education should be made a priority. There is also need to change the negative attitude that some societies still have towards girl-child education, underlying beliefs that are, for example, related to traditional and cultural beliefs need to be demystified.
Robert Tumwebaze, Accountant
Non-government organisations should come up to address the issue of access to sanitary pads for the girls. This, I think, is one of the biggest obstacles girls face in many parts of Africa and it hinders their ability to attend school.
Sarah Mbabazi, Stylist