Tag Archives: Kenyatta

Menstruation verses girls education in Africa

13 Jan



By Wanjala Wafula


At a recent girl’s education round-table in Kampala Uganda, I came under intense condemnation for insisting that the menstruation debate and the improvement of toilet facilities for girls across Africa is not likely to substantially result in school retention for girls especially in the rural and marginalized regions on the continent. My submission was premised on the fact that the promotion of girls education on the continent is hindered by an array of factors, many of which go beyond the girl’s personal hygiene, comfort and belief.

For my detractors, I have spent over fifteen years of my life campaigning for girl’s education. I have gone to some of the most dangerous places on the continent to work with men, boys, and communities to advance gender parity, endorse women participation and combat detrimental traditions and customs including child marriage, FGM and widow inheritance. I have gone through the societal furnace as a result of my work with men and boys toward eliminating all forms of violence. I consider myself experienced and robust to be called an African pro-feminist.

I still maintain that education is women’s leading key to freedom from subjugation, fear and want. Education is an effective weapon to fight poverty. It saves women’s lives and gives them an opportunity to advance their lives. It gives women a voice and amplifies nations’ productivity and competiveness. It’s one of the primary catalysts of social, economic and political advancement. At the individual level, education is the ultimate liberator, empowering people to make personal and social choices. Education is also the ultimate equalizer, particularly in promoting greater equity for women, and for the poor and disadvantaged groups since education often is the only capital such groups can aspire to acquire. At the national level, educated citizens are the foundation for well-functioning democratic institutions, and for achieving social cohesion.

I have to uncover a fact that in numerous countries across Africa, menstruation products such as tampons and pads are not widely available in the first place. In countries where these products are available, they may be too expensive for women and girls or families who are already making sacrifices to send their girls to school. The making available of menstruation products cannot be construed to be the only solution to all problems related to girl’s education in Africa except if this is yet another economic frontage.

Girls in most parts of Africa are repressed by male dominance, controlled by traditional perceptions of a woman, and abused by the time-honored customs of their communities. The prejudice against the girl child in most African societies is not about race or ethnicity, but rather about gender and sexuality. The prejudice is not about opportunities but rather the robust forces that stand in the way of girls and women on the continent. It is evident that regardless of the extensive governmental legislation, traditional belief systems have established mechanisms for discrimination and violence against girls. Hence, their exclusion from entitlements, rights and equal opportunities is the norm rather than practice

I journey expansively across the African continent and I can assertively confirm that Quality educational opportunities are limited and parent/community support for girls’ education is lower than it is for boys. In many countries on the continent, and especially in rural areas, girls who attend school do so for only a few years, often dropping out when they are in their early teenage years. Harmful civil and customary laws are derived from traditional or religious beliefs and imposed upon millions of girls in Africa, who in turn face persistent discriminatory and violent practices often at the hands of their own families and communities. With or without toilet health facilities, the rural African girl is a victim of circumstances beyond her direct control.

In many marginalized regions across Africa, programs that are providing sanitary napkins/tampons as well as improving toilet facilities for girls are concentrated in urban centers. The programs continue to face protracted opposition with girls undergoing maltreatment in numerous places. Demands on girls time, conceptions of their gendered roles in the family and community, and biological factors related to their reproductive health are all obstacles to their access to quality education. Let‘s not water down the debate by providing escape routes.  I know for a fact that large numbers of girls are out of school in many parts of Africa.

Countries like Kenya, which pioneered the free primary education program, have nothing much to report about as the public education sector is literally grinding to a halt. Retention rates especially for girls across the continent are very low and secondary school enrolment rates show that the primary school system is not functioning effectively to enable girls’ educational achievement through the education cycle

The many obstacles that prevent girls from accessing, remaining and achieving in schools in Africa include female genital mutilation; biological challenges (including lack of adequate sanitation facilities); child marriage; socio-cultural conceptions of gender and education for girls; domestic responsibilities; lack of female role models including teachers; long distances to travel to school, thereby jeopardizing personal safety; inadequate number of trained teachers; and poverty forcing girls to stay home to earn an income. Do not even attempt to single out any of the above factors as the outstanding validation because they must all be addressed in unanimity.

I was stunned when a self proclaimed advocate of girl’s rights insisted that addressing the menstruation needs alone will cause fifty percent retention of girls in schools. She even told me to the face that men have no role in promoting girls education. Many times, programs seeking to achieve gender equality and girls’/women’s empowerment sideline the role of men or define their role in a narrow manner. How I wish the world woke-up to the reality that in order for girls and women empowerment to be reached, men and boys will need to be backers for girls’ education. For this I can vow!

There are numerous other reasons why many Kenyan girls are not being educated. One of them is the sexual prejudices against girls. In many places, it is a cultural element that women are not equal to men. Others have enhanced the archaic thinking insisting that women do not need to be educated. Because of this discrimination, many girls grow up and pass their lack of skills onto their children, especially the girls. Any direct engagement by the girl child in the struggle against the dominant ideologies of the patriarchal system leads the girl child to violate traditional belief systems and laws or conventional standards of her society hence the depravity

Community participation in girl’s education is a key missing link. Community engagement plays an important role in up scaling girls’ admission in schools and improving educational quality consequently developing the society. Increased community involvement is clearly related to improved access, and there is growing evidence that community involvement also improves the quality of the education offered.

I advocate for cross cutting interventions because not all problems affecting girls’ education in Africa are girls’ problems per se. Girls and other disadvantaged groups are especially vulnerable to the effects of generic problems associated with poverty, low GDP, HIV/AIDS, poor education resource mobilization and management and poor education quality. These problems cannot be offset by focusing solely on the education sector and on girls. The problems can be overcome by putting in place a blend of diverse interventions.

Give me a break! Numerous pundits across the African continent agree with me that data available indicate that menstruation accounts for only a small proportion of all female absenteeism from school. Let’s stop the sideshows and face the reality. I totally agree with the World Bank as it contends that if women in sub-Saharan Africa had equal access to education, land, credit and other assets like fertilizer, the region’s gross national product could increase by almost one additional percentage point annually. Mark Blackden, one of the bank’s lead analysts, says Africa‘s progress was inextricably linked to the fate of girls.

The  writer  is  a  Founder  /  CEO  of  The  Coexist  Initiative,  a  not  for  profit  synergy  of  men  and  boys community‐based  organizations  committed  to  eliminating  all  forms  of  Gender  based  violence  in  Kenya. Visit    http://www.coexistkenya.com    or    email    Wafula@coexistkenya.com‐    facebook‐wanjala    Wafula‐ skype: coexist.initiative.  Tel:  +254-712653322


Nairobi Bleeds

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Hi Friend,

Nairobi is bleeding!! Satanists are on the loose! I am safe though.


Wanjala Wafula


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