Friday, February 26, 2010

What is a girl worth?

An estimated 41 million girls are missing out from school around the world – almost half that number is in sub-Saharan Africa. Whenever large segments of any population, for whatever reason, are denied educational opportunities families, communities and sometimes nations are left at great an economic disadvantage. Denial of educational opportunities for girls for economic or cultural reasons is a prescription for poverty.

Jessica Shepherd writes in the Guardian the situation in eastern Ghana:
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 12-year-old Abigail Appetey is forced to miss her classes at primary school to sell fried fish door-to-door in Apimsu, her farming village in eastern Ghana. She gets up at 5am to buy the fish three miles away.

The little she earns won't go on the exercise books she needs; her parents will spend it on her 20-year-old brother Joseph's education. Abigail wants to be a teacher, she says, but is always tired in class.

There are 41 million girls around the world who should be in primary school all week, but aren't, the Department for International Development says. At least 20 million of them are, like Abigail, in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Ghana, 91% of boys, but only 79% of girls finish primary school. By the time they complete junior high school – for 12- to 15-year-olds – 65% of boys and just 54% of girls are still in lessons, says the lobby group the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition.

Here in Asesewa – one of Ghana's poorest districts – Abigail's nearest junior high school has just five girls out of 20 pupils in its most senior class. The school improvement plan is torn, written in felt tip and peeling from a wall in a corridor. It is the middle of the dry season and temperatures can reach 31C, but the school's tap is empty and the toilets don't work. The most the school seems to have is a few exercise and textbooks that look as though they date back to the 1950s.

The average income for Asesewa's population of 90,000 is between £11 and £14 a month, according to the international charity Plan, which has a base here.

Almost 80% of inhabitants farm maize and the starchy cassava plant. The work is done with machetes or by hand. Most families have no running water or electricity in their homes and almost half are illiterate. Living in poverty like this, girls stand little chance of being spared the time – or the money – for school.

Ministers in the Ghanaian government abolished fees for primary education in 2005 and boast that they spend the equivalent of £6 in state funds on each primary pupil every year. But parents must pay for exercise books, school uniforms and exams.
It is these hidden costs – which can amount to more than £100 per child per year – that dissuade many from sending their girls to school, says Joseph Appiah, Plan's chief fieldworker in Asesewa.

Besides, the value of an educated girl is lower than that of an educated boy. "The feeling is that girls will marry and belong to another family; boys bring back what they make to their parents," Appiah says.

And, in these rural communities, girls are needed at home. From as young as seven they can be expected to prepare breakfast and lunch for their parents, take it to them in the fields and cook a hot dinner in the evenings. Many will also have to fetch water from several kilometres away and sell what they can to supplement their family's meagre income. That leaves little time for lessons. "Here, it is only when a girl has extra determination to make it in her education that she will," Appiah says.

And yet Ghana is prospering. The last five elections have been free and fair, making the country a darling of the donor community. The UK alone will give £250m this year to alleviate poverty here.

Economic growth has increased steadily for the last decade and the gross domestic product has almost doubled in that time. The discovery of 600m barrels of oil in 2007 has given the country a new profile on the world stage. The International Monetary Fund has called Ghana "one of Africa's frontier emerging markets".
Not that you would know it in Asesewa.
You can read the entire article here.

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