Silent suffering: Kenyan girls missing out on education
By Monica Mararo
In crisis situations, girls face many barriers to education. These include sexual and gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, and child marriage. In Kenya, girls from Turkana host communities and urban refugee girls in Eastleigh informal settlement, Nairobi, are disadvantaged at all stages of education and struggle to learn given the high levels of vulnerabilities. In these fragile and crisis contexts, girls' education is a lifeline. Unfortunately, many girls remain out of school and face gender-related barriers in education, pushing them further behind and deeper into poverty.
At the advent of Covid-19, the Government of Kenya announced the closure of schools and educational institutions as a precautionary measure to mitigate the risk of human-to-human transmission of the virus and minimize community spread. The adverse effects of the pandemic were experienced more by girls than boys. During the school lockdown, girls lacked food and sanitary towels provided by schools and NGOs. Most were unable to access learning materials while at home, and alternative learning channels were unavailable. For instance, most homes do not have radios; hence girls did not benefit from the school radio programmes by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD). They also do not have access to computers or smartphones to attend remote classes.
From the case study conducted by FAWE Kenya, Turkana County does very poorly in keeping girls in school once they are enrolled. There is a dramatic reduction in their numbers as they progress in subsequent classes. In 2020, for instance, 700 girls sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) against 997 boys, implying more boys completed primary school than girls in the host community. The rural-based host community has a negative attitude towards educating girls and believe that their education is optional. Girls stay home providing labour such as herding goats and handling other household chores. Their focus is to get them married off in exchange for wealth. Fathers believe that girls belong to them, and it is their right to decide when to be beaded and married off in exchange for cows and camels. Schools are viewed as places where girls are exposed to "foreign" ideas such as sex, abortion, drug use, and pregnancy. Language barriers, inadequate teachers, poor attitude towards education, girls' indiscipline, and lack of role models are all factors leading to girls' educational failings.
Many girls experience violence and extremism both at home and in school, and they undergo harm in the name of corporal punishment to instil discipline. The culturally defined gender-biased roles have led to a disparity in educational opportunities for girls and boys. Cleaning, cooking, fetching water, and selling firewood or charcoal are chores that together represent girls' daily tasks. These activities often take up most of their time to the point that they have little or no time to study like boys do.
When families flee for safety, young girls miss out on education. Many urban refugee girls and families have fled Somalia due to forced recruitment and abduction of children to the conflict and found themselves in Eastleigh, Nairobi. Majority (30.8%) fled to Kenya because they feared abduction by militias, while 26.9% were forced out by war and internal violence. Many were also fleeing persecution, war, or even forced marriage, or female genital mutilation. Despite instability in their home countries, many girls sought further education, employment, or green pastures.
In Eastleigh, Nairobi, school-going refugee girls have been barred from accessing education because they lack official documentation. There are only six public schools and a couple of private schools that enroll urban refugee girls. Overcrowded classrooms characterize most, and teachers do not have the requisite skills to deal with their needs. Lack of legal status, essential documentation such as ID or birth certificate, or proof of prior schooling required to register is a significant barrier.
The urban refugee girls lack transportation options for safely accessing schools, with 59% mentioning distance to school as a significant barrier to schooling. Typically, because of time spent finding where to settle, most refugee girls are overaged for their grade/class for both primary and secondary schools. Because of colour and height, they are laughed at and ridiculed by other learners in schools. For example, some South Sudanese refugee girls cannot go to school because of the prejudices surrounding their physical appearances, especially their skin color and height, and end their schooling to enter the workforce, primarily as domestic workers.
Interventions by FAWE Kenya
FAWE Kenya works to ensure that all girls can access education, and this promotes stability among vulnerable girls. Educated girls are equipped with tools for resolving disputes peacefully and are more productive. Quality education has been shown to promote tolerance and help resist recruitment to violent extremism.
To address barriers to girls' enrolment, retention, and completion in Turkana host communities and Eastleigh, FAWE Kenya is working proactively with the community to advance gender parity in education. We are encouraging parental engagement and girls' participation in informing the planning of education in emergency settings. We believe this will help ensure the response targets girls in a way that benefits them and their voices are heard.
We support the education sector and the stakeholders to constructively influence decision-making and allocations at the county and national levels. With our well-constructed EiE program, we will ensure that quality education for girls is a top priority. Through the Nairobi and Turkana Advocacy Working Groups, we address a wide range of barriers to girls' education using data-driven and gender-responsive strategies, tools, and approaches to put gender equality at the heart of EiE.
We have conducted extensive research to document evidence-based strategies that will change the narrative for girls growing up in crisis-affected contexts, strengthening their resilience and potential to rebuild their lives and shape their communities. Our research applied a data-driven gender analysis with qualitative and quantitative data disaggregated by sex and other variables to identify and understand existing gender disparities and gender-biased norms and practices related to access and learning for girls living in the Turkana host community and urban refugee girls in Eastleigh Nairobi. We have documented disaggregated and nuanced data regarding what is happening and why it is happening. This critical evidence will be integrated into the Kenyan education sector assessments and responses and used to inform programme design, implementation, partnerships, monitoring, and reporting to accelerate gender equality for girls' education in emergencies.
In our advocacy efforts, we mobilize multi-sector responses in addressing the full spectrum of barriers that keep girls out of school while ensuring community involvement and establishing accountability mechanisms. For instance, in Turkana County, through the 'Wasichana Wetu Wafaulu" programme, sanitary towels are provided by the Ministry of Education. FAWE Kenya committed to holding the county education officers accountable for ensuring that the poor and needy girls from the host community access the sanitary towels and attend schools more frequently.
There is a need for improved coordination between the Government, CSOs, and other stakeholders to promote girls' education in emergency settings and encourage communities to champion girls' education.