After over a decade of efforts to making education accessible and affordable for all, the challenge of providing equitable access to and quality education for girls remains a critical challenge in many sub-Saharan African Countries including Ghana.
Access to quality education devoid of violence is regarded as a priority among other basic human rights by most nations and the international community. Key international protocols and conventions including the Education For All, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and Millennium Development Goals all have key provisions on the right to basic education for all.
However Girl's enrollment declines progressively from the basic to the tertiary levels of education as indicated by declining GPIs from 0.97 at the primary level to less than 0.6 at the tertiary levels.
The levels of retention, completion, and transition of girls at various levels of the formal education system strata also worsen progressively.
This has resulted in the under representation of the needs and concerns of women and girls in socio-economic and political development processes of the country. This is against the background that females constitute about 51% of the total population of Ghana.
Girls are less likely to attend school regularly than boys and if and when they attend class, they are less likely to concentrate and ask/answer questions because of the amount of house chores they are forced into undertaking. A girl may be asked to stay home to take care of a sick person/younger sibling, fetch water among other domestic responsibility.
Any physical, sexual or psychological assault perpetrated against school girls is likely to exasperate their already low profile of educational participation thereby making them less and less visible in the school. Violence directly negatively affects girls' school attendance, their concentration, classroom activity and completion of homework, all of which are closely linked to their educational participation.
Across the world, 69 million children do not go to primary school. 54% are girls. Once in school, girls are faced with numerous challenges and are more likely than boys to stop attending before they complete primary education.
Girls also have significantly less chance of progressing to secondary school in many parts of the world including Ghana. Of the 759 million adults lacking literacy skills, two-thirds are women – a share that has actually increased slightly over the last decade.
Poor and marginalised women and girls are disproportionately affected, with factors such as; ethnicity, disability and location dramatically worsening a girl's chance of entering and completing school. These facts highlight a scandalous denial of human rights.
ActionAid-Ghana in collaboration with Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition-GNECC & Songtaba under the Stop Violence Against Girls in Schools (SVAGS) project funded by Big Lottery Fund,UK is among the efforts aimed at bridging the gender disparities among the key policy drivers for the national education strategic framework.
The SVAGS project sought to ensure that Girls as well as boys have a violence free school environment to be able to thrive and complete their learning without fear of any form of violence.
Surprisingly in Ghana, physical violence and abuse in a form of Corporal punishment, sexual violence, among other forms exist.
The participation rate is lower for girls compared to that of boys in all regions except in the Eastern Region where the participation rate was in favour of girls (MoE, 2010/11).In the Nanumba North and South saw a baseline of 2,346 at the end of year four saw a twenty percent increase to this figure. What is the rippling effect should every district in Ghana undertake same activities as Nanumba North and South district?
The Stop Violence Against Girls in Schools project has found out that school girls in all areas of Ghana are subjected to various forms of abuse and violence; in their homes, on their way to and from school as well as in the schools.
The types of violence and abuse vary in prevalence across the country and there are urban and rural variations as well. Although is not possible to clearly establish who exactly is the perpetrator of which type of violence, the project has over the years at least identified who the perpetrators in the three different settings are.
This has made girls seem to be caught in a vicious cycle in which their struggle to get an education instead of being married in an early age expose them to violence and abuse, which then leads to low level of academic performance, class repetition and eventually dropping out of the school.
In recent years the government of Ghana, donors and civil societies have together raised the general awareness of the importance of girls' education and have successfully managed to increase the gross enrolment rate of girls but what is next?
The key to this solution, therefore, lies in breaking the cycle. One can conclude that the education system is “key” in breaking this cycle.
As much as the school is part of the problem, it is also part of the solution. The fact that some of the main perpetrators are older school boys and also female students underline that the school itself can and should play a major role in eliminating the violence.
On the way to and from school also out of school boys are among the main perpetrators. Thus the school and the community should work together in reaching those groups.
As we celebrate 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence; ActionAid, GNECC, Songtaba and partners wish to remind the responsible government bodies to apply a system for follow up, reporting and ensuring action is taken to enforce the implementation of school rules and a regulation including the international conventions.
One of these structures is the DOVVSU/ Ghana Education Unit (GEU) of Ghana Education Service (GES) memorandum of understanding facilitated by GNECC under the SVAGS project and ensure the victims receive the needed counselling and the perpetrators dealt with.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) should facilitate the speedy adoption of the draft Gender Education Policy and ensure that it is implemented at all levels by the Ghana Education Service.
School Authorities should establish and strengthen girls' clubs and boys clubs for girls and boys in basic and senior high schools. The clubs should be initiated by adults but handed over to the children for them to run the clubs. The clubs should be empowered to give peer education, report and follow up on violence and abuse in and around the school. Above all, ensure that there is separate toilet for girls and that it is not placed in the remote part of the school compound.
And the Ministry of Women and Children's Affair (MoWAC) should build the capacity of women's affairs offices at all levels (in particular at the district level) to effectively catalyze the implementation of rules, regulations and policies concerning violence and abuse against school girls.
Mr. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General once said that “There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls”.
The author is the Gender Programme Officer at Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition