From time immemorial in Africa, girls have remained disadvantaged, especially when it involves education as a result of sociocultural norms, religion, gender discrimination or even violence.
The plight of the girl child has continued to generate concerns for the international community, resulting in interventions by donor agencies.
Recently, an understudy of out-of-school girls in Kano revealed some underlying factors that force girls to drop out of school and perpetually keep them in untold hardship.
Despite Kano being a heterogeneous society, there are reported incidences of female children being married off to willing suitors with little or no inhibition.
These situations have been linked to a high rate of poverty, illiteracy, violence, divorce and overpopulation as well as compromised maternal and child health in local communities.
This has been the norm for decades, despite awareness that educated girls could become knowledgeable adults and healthier mothers who would in turn raise healthier families to contribute to the economic growth of the countries.
The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey [MICS] of 2017 indicates that on average, girls in Kano have less than a 50% chance of enrolling in primary school and a 30% less chance of transiting to secondary school.
A girl from a poor home in the region has a 24% chance of enrolling in primary school and only a 9% chance of enrolling in secondary compared to 87% chance and 79% chance, respectively, for girls in the South-South region.
Now, mothers in Kano believe overcoming the factors that lead to low girl child enrolment in school, their drop out from basic education, early marriage and preference for the welfare of boys will only take the involvement of community leaders and duty bearers to correct.
Hauwa Mohammed, a resident of Sharada Ja’en community, in Gwale area council of Kano State says tradition pushes parents to prioritize the education of their sons over their daughters, which eventually reduces the women to mere child-bearers and house-keepers.
Hauwa is the Coordinator of a group of mothers who have tasked themselves to challenge the status quo and aid families and the girls themselves develop interest in education and pursue it.
The mothers are championing girl child enrolment in schools in their communities, helping female children and the community, in general, become free from both intellectual poverty and societal norms that have kept them bound for ages.
Known as the ‘Mother’s Association’, the group of women do not only identify as role models for the girls they cajole to school, but they also function as community leaders speaking against violence against the girl child.
“Our work is to ensure that girls in this community attend school, Hauwa tells DAILY POST, we have set up a committee of elderly mothers who are on surveillance, focusing on girls who come to school, those who stopped coming and even those not enrolled at all.
She says the mothers investigate the reasons why each identified girl child is not in school and dialogue with them, their guardians or their parents on ways to ensure they enrol.
“We investigate each case to know why girls are not in school, whether it is the fault of the girl, or her parents before we take any action.
“In the case where a girl has never enrolled before, we do pick the girl and bring her to the school and get her enrolled. We have a good working relationship with school authorities.
”Where a girl withdraws and goes to hawk to make money for her family, we engage the parents and also the girl, we ensure that she returns to studies. We tell the parents that there is no substitute for education, whatever they gather for the kids will not last compared to education.
Giving a cursory view into their roles as the Mothers’ Association in Sharada Jaen community of Kano State, Hauwa said the group goes above and beyond to ensure that girls who are out of school as a result of funds to enrol are supported financially to do so.
“We task ourselves and collect contributions from members, depending on each person’s strength. We use the money to support girls who withdraw from school on economic grounds. We buy them uniforms, books, shoes, bags,”
The activities of the mothers have reportedly begun to generate positive impacts according to Hauwa, resulting in the enrolment of over 80 girls and 25 male children, all of whom were wooed back to school through the efforts of the mothers.
” Since we took interest in wooing these children to enrol in school, I think about 80 girls and 25 boys have returned to school in the last one year, she says.
“You know they withdraw the girls to marry them off, claiming that if they stay long they might not get husbands, but our Association keeps telling parents that removing girls from school is not the solution because staying at home is not a guarantee for marriage if it’s not God’s will the girl will still not get a husband
“We also have a centre where we train the girls on skills like how to make perfume, sewing, weaving, other handicrafts, as well as academic lessons because there are teachers amongst us. We encourage them to listen to the radio because there are lots of valuable teachings and lessons that will benefit them in life.
“I usually don’t care about the attitude by heads of households because it also contributes to reasons girls don’t come to school. Once they go out, they don’t care what happens to the children, whether they go to school or not.
“We come to this school every day, we pay attention to what the teachers teach the students. We also pay attention to the cleanliness of the school. Where we see dirt, we help clean them up for our children and sometimes get certain things ready before school resumption”.
As efforts to ensure girls are encouraged and wooed back to school continue, experts say neglecting the boys will also breed as much trouble in future if they too are not in school.
The mothers association, knowing that more boys are sent to school, said they are working to see that the boys don’t only enrol but remain to complete basic education.
Amina Mannir, another member of the mothers association said the women also encourage male children to embrace education because it guarantees a better life in future for them, their wives and children.
She noted that most male children go into drugs, touting and criminality as a result of societal or parental neglect, homelessness, lack of nurture, poor monitoring of their activities or schooling, not paying fees and the general lack of care for children by parents.
Mannir said, ”we engage the boys to find out why they got into drug abuse and we gathered that they are neglected by their parents, whether in terms of food to eat in the house or school fees. We have assisted some of them in securing jobs at the factories around here.
If truly the out-of-school children population must be reduced drastically, particularly for girls, a lot still needs to be done to achieve the desired results from all stakeholders.
Samuel Kaalu, Communication Specialist at UNICEF says if the out-of-school children population must be reduced particularly for girls, more work still needs to be done including implementing the ‘Girls Education Policy’ by state governments in northern Nigeria and ensuring the funding of the education system to reduce the burden of payment for parents.
He explains that girls who complete primary and secondary education tend to marry later, have smaller families and earn higher wages than their mates who were married out earlier.