Ensuring the education of the girl-child must be achieved through a crosscutting strategy that links various development priorities and engages a variety of stakeholders.
This week at the 59th convening Session for the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York, the international community will acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments made towards achieving gender equality and advancing women’s rights in the 20 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing Platform) by 189 countries. The Beijing Platform is the single most comprehensive policy roadmap for governments in addressing these 12 critical areas of concern towards the empowerment of women: poverty; education and training; health; violence; armed conflict; economy; power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms; human rights; media; environment; and the girl-child.
Twenty years later, these issues remain imperative in the struggle for women’s full and equal enjoyment of their human rights the world over, especially as the international community finalizes a post-2015 development agenda to more aggressively address the objectives enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals. Most importantly, this watershed moment serves as an opportunity for critical reflection of challenges that have prevented successful implementation of the Beijing Platform and a chance for meaningful appreciation of the achievements made. It is more important than ever that urgent and sustained action is maintained to shift the prevailing paradigms and to transform structures and institutions relating to economic, political and social concerns in the fight for gender equality – which is not a goal in and of itself, but an imperative pillar underpinning the achievement of the global development agenda.
Critical to the review process for the Beijing Platform is the assessment of individual countries; especially around issues pertaining to the girl-child – as the woman of tomorrow – particularly in the full attainment of the goals of equality, development and peace. In most African countries where higher enrollment of girls into primary schools has been registered in the last 20 years, this number tapers off at the higher levels. The factors influencing this dramatic decrease in participation include “forced or coerced early marriages, unplanned or early pregnancies, cultural norms, gender based violence, and competing needs for the limited resources of poorer families.” In further elaborating the manifestation of the latter cause, particular influences include: child labour; trafficking; subjugation to economic activities such as transactional sex – such as ‘sex for water’ and ‘sex tourism’; and, the overall denigration of the girl’s or woman’s worth and contributory function – including financial – to the family and society, mostly pursuant to negative socialization processes.
The education of the girl child is a fundamental objective of the Beijing Platform and the global development agenda. Furthermore, the majority of African countries have made positive obligations towards this right as a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. However, achievement of this goal is not possible without recognizing the interrelated nature of this right with others issues that detrimentally hinder the progress of girls: including sexual and economic exploitation; harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and child marriage; and, the lack of access to nutrition, physical and mental health care. Owing to this complicated web of issues surrounding the experience of the girl child, girls have continued to enjoy fewer rights, opportunities and benefits of childhood and adolescence than boy children.
The factors and causes, which continue to besiege the entry, retention and performance of girls in schools must be investigated, appreciated and addressed as a matter of urgency. By actively challenging and addressing adulterated notions, attitudes and practices which construct the role and utility of girls as that solely to undertake the often burdensome familial and community responsibilities and tasks, the government would make greater strides towards fulfilling its obligations of ensuring that the right to education – both for girls and boys – is realized on an equal footing and with equal importance.
These causes may not seem believable to most people, but they are a reality: including pressures related to responsibilities attendant and expectations exerted within the home and community setting. Leaving the declining performance and “dropping off” of girls from schools unattended translates to a future in which a majority of those who access university education are boys. That will then leave Africa in a more hostile environment for the realization of gender equality, where women participate in the formal economy in steadily decreasing numbers. Affirmative action has been in place for many years; there may not be many more concessions that the society shall assent to in order to accommodate for tertiary education for women and girls. The symptoms of decline and regression are evident: they need be addressed at this level.
Ensuring the education of the girl child, through the often-tumultuous and adult-formative years of adolescence, must be achieved through a crosscutting strategy that links various development priorities and engages a variety of stakeholders. In this time of reflection on Africa – and the world’s progress – in ensuring the realization of gender equality for our women and girls, let us remain hopeful. Lasting transformative social change linked with progressive economic development is possible; it simply must be for the sake of the continent’s daughters, and education for all is the key to such success.
* Kimberly Brown is an avid international human rights lawyer, working with Equality Now on their Adolescent Girls' Legal Defense Fund (AGLDF) projects in Africa. Ms. Brown holds a Juris Doctor from Case Western Reserve University School of Law and a B.A. cum laude in International Studies from Fordham University.
* Lydia Muthiani is the immediate former Deputy Executive Director/Programmes Manager at the Coalition on Violence against Women – Kenya (COVAW). Ms. Muthiani is currently undertaking a Masters of Studies in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Nairobi and a post-graduate diploma from the Kenya School of Law. She is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and a member of the Law Society of Kenya.
 Beijing +15: How Far Have We Come, How Far to Go? Assessing the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in Kenya (November 2009), http://tinyurl.com/orp53u4
 See African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, specifically Article 11 re: Education, http://caselaw.ihrda.org/doc/acrwc/view/, and Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, specifically Article 12 re: Education and Training, http://www.achpr.org/instruments/women-protocol/
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!