Source: The Standard
Most Zimbabwean girls, especially those in marginalised communities, have big dreams, but they can't build their future because they have always received a wooden spoon from their parents when it comes to education.

The girls contemplate getting decent jobs and marrying husbands of their choice after completing school, but in most cases they have become victims of discrimination as parents or guardians opt to send boys to school, especially to further their education.

Due to this bigotry, the girls end up migrating to cities or nearby growth points where most of them are employed as house maids while a large chunk has no choice other than joining the early marriage bandwagon.

Susan Kamvuti from Dotito in Mt Darwin could not proceed to Form 1 although she had passed her Grade 7 examinations with flying colours last year. She said her father told her that he could not afford to pay school fees for her secondary education.

"My father told me that he was not paying school fees for my secondary education. He told me that I should either join one of our neighbours who was working in Harare as a house maid or I find a job at the growth point," she said.

Kamvuti said the neighbour did not turn up and she ended up getting a job at Dotito Growth Point.

"When the neighbour failed to come, I ended up getting a job at a restaurant at the growth point," she said.

Kamvuti said she was keen to further her education even after she got the job, but her father could not take any of it. Instead, her father paid school fees for her brother who was doing Form Two.

Her predicament is also being faced by a number of girls of her age in the country who have been denied the opportunity to learn at the expense of the boy child.

Despite increasing international recognition that education of girls is one of the most powerful tools for progress, girls suffer from discrimination when it comes to getting an education. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), of the 72 million primary school-going pupils out of school, 44 million were girls.

Zimbabwe's adult literacy rate of 96% makes it the highest in the region. However, women constitute 60% of the illiterate adult population and the school dropout rate, particularly among female students, still remains high.

Enrolment at secondary school level and tertiary institutions is also significantly lower for females than for males.

According to a teacher in Rushinga in Mashonaland Central province, most girls drop out of school when they reach secondary school with the majority of them migrating to Harare while the majority get married locally.

"We have recorded high girls drop-outs at secondary school and I attribute this to a number of factors. Some of these girls are forced out of school because parents would have failed to pay school fees while the majority choose to relocate to Harare," she said.

However, there can be a plethora of barriers to girls' access to school. When families have limited resources, they may feel they have to choose between educating their sons or daughters. Decisions may not be based on natural aptitudes, skills or the motivation levels of either the male or female child.

These unequal gender relations propel a vicious cycle of underinvestment in girls from generation to generation, starting at the earliest stages of their lives and continuing throughout their life cycles.

"It is surprising to see a girl from these communities further her education up to university level. Those who do that would have done their secondary education in the towns or at schools outside the district," said the teacher.

Denying the girl child access to education is endangering efforts to realise the internationally agreed sustainable development goal number four, which says "Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning".

Today, over two thirds of the world's 860 million illiterates are women. The ILO says failure to educate girls costs developing countries $92 billion a year.

Girl child activitist, Nyaradzo Mashayamombe said educating a girl was key to national development.

"Educating girls, in particular, paves the way for wider changes in families, societies and workplaces. Educated girls are more likely to have better income as adults, marry later, have fewer and healthier children and stronger decision-making power within the household. They are also more likely to ensure that their own children are educated, avoiding future child labour," she said.

However, Zimbabwe has made giant strides in trying to mainstream gender issues in all sectors in order to eliminate all negative economic, social and cultural practices that impede equality and equity of sexes.

Among such efforts, Zimbabwe has ratified and acceded to several declarations, conventions and protocols aimed at creating an enabling environment for the attainment of gender equality and equity.

Sociologist Yotamu Chirwa while applauding efforts being done by government and the civil society in trying to address the social and economic imbalances, said there were a myriad of barriers to gender balance.

"There are cultural, social and economic issues that are hindering gender balance," he said.

"We might have all those conventions, declarations and protocols signed before us but as long as we fail to tackle these cultural, social and economic challenges we won't get there."

By Moses Mugugunyeki

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