Different surveys have shown that more than 50 per cent of young women ages 15 to 24 have no experience with formal education in the Northern part of Nigeria.
Apart from cultural norms, poverty, insecurity,amongst others, one of the major hindrances to girls education in the region is domestic duties in and around the house, which normally deprives them from going to school.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “about 60 per cent of out-of-school children are girls. Many of those who do enroll and drop out early. Low perceptions of the value of education for girls and early marriages are among the reasons. Some northern states have laws requiring education of girls and prohibiting their withdrawal from school. Girls’ primary school attendance has been improving, but this has not been the case for girls from the poorest households.”
And as part of measure to change the tide, UNICEF, in partnership with Federal Ministry of Education and State Universal Basic Education Boards in Bauchi, Niger, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states, in 2017 launched an intervention project called the “Girls for Girls (G4G) Initiative”, funded by UKAID through its Department for International Development (DFID).
The aim of the initiative is to work with girls to improve support and mentoring in schools, for girls and by girls, and thereby improve girls’ retention and learning in schools, and to also empower girls to appreciate who they are, and why they should remain in school.
It also met to encourage girls in school to remain and complete education and aspire to higher levels. (Increased retention of girls in school).
The programme is already yielding results in the benefiting states, but rather than wait until the end of the programme, UNICEF has taken a step further by identifying the pivotal role the boys can play in supporting the girls in their quest to get formal education, by creating ‘He4She’ another initiative within the G4G project.
According to Azuka Menkiti, Education Specialist with UNICEF Abuja, ‘He4She’ “is a concept that we develop recognizing that we cannot just build the capacity of girls on their rights and issues around gender and social norms without also getting the male counterparts to also understand why we are pushing for girls education.
“So it is about getting the men to appreciate while girls need support. To also appreciate and understand the issues around equality and equity that also are part of what hinders education for girls within their environments. So, it is also about getting men to appreciate the social norms and cultural practices that are not in favour of girls.”
“And remember that these girls are their sisters, wives and future mothers. So what we are trying to do is basically to build a solidarity around education for girls by making the men to also have what we call positive masculinity to appreciate that they are masculine, but can use their masculinity positively to address those gender issues, roles, cultural and social norms within the environment that hinder education for their sisters, wives and their mothers.”
Menkiti, noted that the programme is new and started within the past few months, adding, “we started by identifying some young undergraduates guys and secondary school boys that we have trained as master trainers on positive masculinity. The training had different modules on life skills, safety and violence, healthy relationships, social norms (those that are acceptable and unacceptable ones), gender and value clarification, and also education as right. So we have trained these young men who are going to be on the forefront as trainers for us.
“These young men, undergraduates and secondary school boys have started helping us to train boys in primary schools because we want to catch them young; boys in upper primary schools.”
Speaking with one of the ‘He4She’ volunteer at Gurbi Primary School, Talata Mafara in Zamfara State, 14 years old, class six, Abdulrahma Muazu, said he decided to join the programme to support her sisters so they can have more time for their education rather than be street hawkers, especially during school hours.
“We are supporting them because we don’t want them to be corrupt, we are now protecting them from harassment, intimidation and molestation. Whenever they are going or coming from school, we go along with them.
“One of the things we do to support them is helping them to do the house chores, formally our parents don’t allow us to do the domestic work, they believe it is the duty of the girls to fetch water, wash and clean the house no matter how many the works are, and that normally takes them a long time to complete. But since we have been helping them in that regard, they finish on time and we go to school together.
“Some times, if I see any girl loitering around during class period, instead of just looking at them or quarrelling with them, I simply walk to them and tell them what they are doing is not proper.
“I know that if I allow them to live the way they like it will affect their life in the future, so I ensure that we do what they have taught us on how to help them, so that their life will be better when they grow up.” Abdulrahma added.
On the relationship between the boys and girls in the school, he said, “before we don’t used to borrow them pen even if they needs it seriously, but now we sit together, share pen even exchange books and sometimes do assignments together.”
Speaking further on the ‘He4She’ expected impact in the future, the UNICEF education specialist, explained, “what we want to see is massive group of men who will be driving the cause of girls education. We are already working with boys, so in the next few years we want to see these boys grow up with a different perspectives of gender understanding of issues around gender stereotypes that hinder education for girls and are able to support the girls and break all these barriers. Because when they have the understanding and knowledge of how these issues affect girls as men, they will react differently to girls.
“As men who will grow up to become policymakers, fathers and members of the legislature. So their mindset would have been changed on the fact that the girls also need to be given the same opportunities as the boys.
“And we have started seeing changes in their attitudes because when they understood everything about gender roles and know gender and social norms hinder their sisters from achieving their potentials, so many of them became very sober. So already we have started building a team of change agents as boys who will help to change the status quo in future.”
The “He4She” intervention is no doubt a potent weapon and strategy that can provide the much awaited solutions to an age long challenge facing girls education in northern Nigeria because it is boosting the confidence of girls in schools where it is currently being implemented.
They are now beginning to know that they are not alone, as a result they now have a feeling of comfort from the support they are getting from the boys which is greatly improving their learning and engendering their fate to remain in school.
Therefore, there is need for the Nigerian government, Northern Nigeria Governors especially, Local Government authorities, Religious and Traditional Rulers to take advantage of this programme by supporting and expanding it to other states and creating special policy for it’s sustainability when UNICEF close out the intervention in the next few years.