Speaking at the opening of the Muranyundo School for Girls, the First Lady told the audience, “our leaders have long recognised the importance of investing in human capital”, the climbing primary and secondary school admission figures provide testament to this attitude.
However, an alarming gender disparity exists in education; the roots are societal, the repercussions developmental.
Rwanda has long been regarded a developmental example. This is reflected in the primary school enrolment rates; by 2005 these had surpassed ambitious aims projected for 2008.
Indeed, gender parity in enrolment is unsurpassed by any other state in the East African Community.
This model begins with government, in which women make 56% of parliamentarians, as well as a major priority outlined in Vision 2020, which asserts the importance of gender equality in education.
Policies are not however judged by sentiment, the authorities make serious assumptions and oversights, and Rwanda’s future educated women are being lost on the way.
Gender equity in primary schools declines to a notable absence in HEIs, in which admittance of women into competitive universities is half that of men, with a 30% fail rate.
Girls face a number of challenges in their progression through education, as a result they are systematically more likely to drop-out, fail examinations and be refused places.
The central restriction to girls’ enrolment is existent attitudes, from wider society to educational authorities.
The pressures placed upon girls in the home are consuming and disrupting, this is a result of attitudes to girl’s education, a consequence of an appreciation of disparities that exist in employment opportunities.
These are endemic issues and government is prepared to deal with these circumstances, however they are propounded by measures that authorities have failed to take.
The school environment remains a male space, from facilities to attitudes. FAWE’s research indicates challenges to girls such as gender-biased learning materials, inadequate sanitary conditions as well as endemic sexual harassment.
These issues were recognised in 2003, MINEDUC stated ‘retention and quality for girls (in education) have been worsening’.
The government in 2007 did initiate the ‘Child Friendly School Policy’, which attempted to combat these issues; however concerns persist over expediency and prioritising.
The Poverty Reduction Strategy recognised gender equality in schools as a major priority of the government, but budget allocation remained underfunded.
The priority for the government should be the amelioration of girl’s circumstances in schools; gender equity in HEIs is a fundamental aspect of education as the force behind changing Rwandan society.
The government needs to take the recognised action, girl’s motivation is important, and the annual prizes for recognising girl’s achievement are indicative of the government policy to engender these values, but motivation is not enough.
Girls need accessibility and equal opportunities to assure gender equity in education. This achievement would provide the platform for wider changes in society’s attitudes and allow the true mobilisation of Rwanda’s most important resource, its people.