The World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap report 2014 paints a gloomy picture of poor enrollment of girls in Rwandan tertiary institutions. The recently released report ranked Rwanda 127th out of 142 countries in regard to female enrolment in tertiary education. Experts say this explains the low number of female graduates and subsequently the hardly visible number of women in Rwanda’s professional ranks.
Dr. Marie Christine Gasingirwa, the Director General of science, technology and research in the Ministry of Education, says the challenge is mainly with science based professions. She argues that when one looks at particular subjects, especially social sciences, girls are actually more than the boys.
“The problem that has been observed is in science and technology which is generally called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); there are very few girls who take up these subjects yet they are the ones with higher chances of attracting government sponsorship. Most girls prefer arts subjects which always have a very high pass mark for university admission,” Dr. Gasingirwa says.
She explains that in primary and secondary schools, girls outnumber boys but when it comes to higher institutions, starting from the upper secondary school, the number of girls drastically drops.
She cites culture stereo types that sciences are too hard for girls as another cause of this problem.
“Culture influences the mindset that the hard subjects are meant for boys and hence girls end up opting for simple courses like secretarial studies, others are even expected by their parents to get married earlier, this hinders their success,” Dr. Gasingirwa says.
She notes that in terms of admission to the university, the cut off points are high, adding that boys tend to have better preparations to make the cut.
“Comparing the life of a boy and that of a girl in rural families which are the majority, girls have no time to study, they are mostly consumed with domestic work plus the frequent absenteeism from school due to some feminine problems like menstruation, since some of these girls in the country lack facilities. And because of their fear to mess up, they miss classes, leading to absenteeism which in the end reduces concentration, hence poor performance,” she says.
Fred Mugisha, the in charge of policy and research at the Higher Education Council, says that, in general, females in higher learning institutions account for 44 per cent of the entire enrolment.
In private higher learning institutions, males are 47 per cent while females are 53 per cent of the total enrolment.
Mugisha adds that the culture of male preference affects the females and that ought to be a cause for concern.
“Some parents discourage girls to study ‘hard’ courses like engineering. The girls fear to take up take up these courses perceived to be a male domain, so that’s where the cultural issue comes in.”
Mugisha warns that lack of career guidance right from lower levels of school is also a big challenge.
Some of these girls don’t get career guidance while in secondary school, therefore it becomes hard for them to figure out what to do at University.
“Career guidance should be streamlined in all school,” Mugisha emphasizes.
Mugisha says another barrier is limited hostel facilities for girls in tertiary institutions; hostels can only cater for 11 per cent of students and of course this privilege only applies to new female entrants. He says that such a situation leaves a number of female students without accommodation and some lack finances to cater for themselves thus dropping out.
In a previous interview with The New Times, Professor Nelson Ijumba, the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs and Research, University of Rwanda, expressed his concern about girls being hesitant to apply yet they have the qualifications. He said that they asked the Centre of Gender Studies to look into the issue though the issue won’t be about lowering girls’ entry points for girls.
While addressing a recent workshop organised by the University of Rwanda’s College of Education academic staff with pertinent approaches in carrying out gender related research, Dr. Jolly Rubagiza, Director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Rwanda stated that: “The concept of gender is new in Rwandan culture to the extent that its terminology in Kinyarwanda language is hard to find.” She added that from way back, society has been characterised by stereotypes that undermine women’s capacity.
Despite efforts to curb the gender gap in regards to professionalism, a lot is still needed.
Professor Ijumba recommends an advocacy approach to save the situation; he says that there is need to start addressing the issue from secondary school level and that one of the strategies should be to engage schools to talk to the female candidates and explain to them that women and girls can perform as well.
Dr. Gasingirwa points out that one way of building confidence among girls is advising them to be hard working. “Girls should use their opportunities to compete with boys and excel, because this world we are going through is highly competitive,” she says.
Gasingirwa also says that the other way is to encourage them to have confidence because that will make them different and competitive. The few women who make it to the top as professionals attribute their success towards hard work and being committed to what one wants and believes in.
Cynthia Murungi, head of Magic FM and also a member of The National Youth Committee says that getting to where she is now was not really a tough journey. For her it was a simple ride because she had passion and loved doing what she did though she says it requires hard work for one to be successful.
Speaking about how culture affects women’s’ perception, she says: “Well I do respect the women who opt to settle for marriage entirely, it’s also very challenging but then if one has dreams and wants to contribute to society in one way or another, I don’t think marriage should stop you from doing that, rather, it should give you more platform for support,” Murungi says.
I say: What should be done to get more girls to enrol at university?
Aimable Twahirwa, Journalist
I believe there is need to promote mentorship programmes in secondary schools where successful professional women can tell the stories of their success and share experiences. This will inspire, motivate and empower more girls to go to universities and become professionals.
Jackie Gatera, Student
If the girls can access study loans then this would be great. Girls from poor families cannot afford the university expenses. But if they get loans which can pay for their studies, many will definitely enrol at university.
Dr Vincent Mutabazi
In many parts of the world today, girls are doing better and staying longer in schools and they are now going to universities in larger numbers, we can borrow a leaf from these systems. We need to start at the very bottom of the education system and build programmes tailored to the girl child both at school and at home (a change from traditional housekeeping and reproductive roles) not only to enrol but maintain girls in school. The girl child should also be encouraged to enrol into the traditional “male” domains. We need a fundamental attitude change of mindset towards the importance of female education.
Ronald Lwebuga, Dynapharm employee Inspiration Backup
I think the entry points for the girls into the university should be lowered to encourage more girls and increase the number of girls to be admitted. Girls face several challenges ranging from domestic work and cultural prejudices when going through school more than the boys, thus the affirmative action could be of great help. The government can also create sponsorship through the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion to have a special scheme for the girls on government sponsorship into the university.
There’s usually a problem of poverty and many parents would rather educate the boys further and marry off the girls perceiving secondary school level as ‘sufficient’ for the girl child yet they can offer a lot if educated further. The poorer regions should be given priority in this kind of sponsorship to attain greater empowerment of the girl child.