In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted to identify rights of both males and females around the world. In this document is entrenched the right to life, religion, expression, speech, ownership of property, association and education. But the right to education by all is a problem that has lingered for so long and gotten the attention of people in the society. In recent years, popular media and researchers have given attention to gender inequality and education (Campbell and Sanders, 1977).
Gender inequality in education is neither political propaganda, women in politics or governance, separate schools for the genders, educational achievements of boys and girls nor the male/female ratio of the population. It is not about who contributes more to benefit the family but equal access to education and retention of these students. Although, it affects both genders, it is more pronounced on the girl child.
Over the years, the number of girls in school has dwindled for reasons arising from culture, religion and traditions, cost of education, lack of resources, bias in curriculum, and economic factors limiting ability to finance education. According to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), almost 77m children worldwide are deprived of one of their basic rights: education and girls make up 56% of these children. Also, Nigeria Census population (2007) recorded more males in schools than females.
Taking a deeper look at possible reasons for this disparity, the majority of Nigerian ethnic traditions places more value on a man. A study conducted at the University of Ibadan linked gender disparity to this long held belief of male superiority and female subordination. Culture, religion and tradition are jointly the first major barrier to gender equality in Nigeria. One prominent cultural view is that it is better for the woman to stay home and learn to tend to the family than to attend school. In many parts of Northern Nigeria, girls are usually used to seal off family and community alliances through marriage. The basic literary and numeracy skills are foreign to her and when she finally has her own children, she is unable educate them since she was never educated. While it is a thing of pride to some to be married, it is a thing of pain and shame to others who desire to get educated and be better beings but for cultural, religious and traditional issues. Although, we are beginning to see more educated Northern females, the number of those still denied education is on a daily increase.
The cost of education and lack of resources are also barriers to gender equality in Nigeria. To many people living below the poverty line, education is a luxury. And for those who are still caged in gender stereotypes – which is a lot – the decision to send children to school will prioritise boy education.
In addition, bias in curricula also aids this disparity. It has made Maths and Science subjects for males while Arts and Home-economics are for the females. In 2002, the combined gross enrolment for primary, secondary and tertiary schools for females was 57% compared to 71% for males, pegging women in professional and economic fields at - architects - 2.4%, quantity surveyors - 3.5%, lawyers/jurists - 25.4%, lecturers - 11.8%, obstetricians and gynaecologists - 25.4% paediatricians - 33.3% and media practitioners - 18.3%. It is quite shocking to note that the statistical data has not varied so much, even now in 2019, with only a variance of at most between 5% - 8% increase. That is still a substantial low.
Communities and the public need to be sensitised on the need to educate children irrespective of their gender, and to stop seeing girls as a "waste of investment". Studies have shown that if both male and female children are educated, the female is more likely to do better than if only the male is educated. If education will not be completed, at least literary and numeracy skills be acquired. Benefits of educating a female child should be highlighted and awareness be made via various platforms (traditional and modern means).
There are other things we can do to improve girl education in Nigeria including:
1. Building more low-tuition / tuition-free schools in areas where girl enrolment is low. This will encourage the participation of females in education.
2. Implementing policies that are geared towards enforcing compulsory enrolment of girls in schools.
Most importantly, all levels of government should monitor and manage basic education within their respective jurisdiction. The government is responsible for seeing that community and other government-owned schools are open to all classes of the society.
Step-by-step, one day at a time, with consistent effort from all stakeholders, particularly with ensuring that the limiting stereotypes caused by culture and religion are eliminated, girls will have better opportunities to study, and to excel in all fields.