MOVING TOWARD PARITY
EDUCATION and THE SUB-SAHARAN AFRICAN GIRL
Angela Charlotte Mendy
B.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2007
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science
by Angela Charlotte Mendy 2008
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Social Science
Angela Charlotte Mendy
has been approved
Lucas N. Shamala
Mendy, Angela Charlotte (M.S.S., GRIDS, Liberal Arts and
Moving Toward Parity: Education and the Sub-Saharan African
Thesis directed by Professor Jana Everett
This thesis examines the political, social, economic, and
structural factors that limit girls' education in sub-
Saharan Africa. By examining these factors, I explain the
impediments they present to the intellectual growth of the
African girl and consequently the entire continent. The
research was based primarily on secondary data analysis of
studies conducted on the subject in sub-Saharan Africa and
on in-depth interviews with key figures in the area under
study. It highlights education as a crucial resource that
guides many aspect of human l-ife including economic
development and sustainability. This thesis suggests
changes in state policy, curricula and society in order to
address the inequalities that girls face in education in
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
I dedicate this thesis to the exemplary women in my family
on whose shoulders I stand.
To the past: Veronic Martha Fye,
The present: Mary Emily Fye & Betty Sarr-Mendy.
And to the future: Joanna Mendy, Betty-Lu Thomasi and
Marie-Veronic Thomasi, that they may also claim the torch
of intellectual curiosity that has been given to me by our
grandmother and parents.
Writing this thesis was a hard and challenging task.
Its completion required the support of many people both
materially and emotionally. While it is impossible to
individually mention all of them, some of them deserve very
I begin by acknowledging my grandmother Mary Emily
Fye, who sowed the seeds that inspire me to trust in myself
and allowed me to explore the world through books. She
never stifled my curiosity to understand a world that was
different from what I knew and I am forever grateful for
her love, prayers and support over the course of my short
life. Grandma Kuchu, I would be blessed to be half the
woman that you are.
Second, I wish to thank my parents. To my dad Louie
Mendy, for loving me endlessly and for teaching many life
lessons. You have given me the best life a girl could want,
all the while supporting the decisions that I make without
ever doubting me. I am truly eternally grateful. To my
mother Betty Sarr thanks for believing in my potential, for
fighting for me and for loving me unconditionally. I would
be happy and lucky to be half the mother that you are. My
parents worked long hard hours to pay for a bachelor's
degree and a master's degree full time without student
loans or complaining. They gave me the greatest gifts of
life and knowledge.
Third, I wish to acknowledge the members of my thesis
committee: Dr. Jana Everett, for patiently working me
through this process. You elicited a new form of servant
leadership in me during Gender, Globalization and
Development that further strengthened my desire to be an
active participant in the world. To Drs. Jeanne Christensen
and Lucas Shamala, for helping with my thesis and for
showing me once again why Africa is the most amazing place
Fourth, I wish to acknowledge special friends. They
include my uncle Mr. Pa Louis Thomasi and his wife Mrs.
Agnes J. Thomasi, I am greatly indebted to you, because of
you at thirteen, I knew although remotely what path to
follow in this life. To my uncle Paul John Gaye, I thank
you for celebrating all my milestones and for always
believing that I could do better. To my Grandfather: Mr.
Marcel Thomasi for loving me. I remember the times you took
me to reform club and the milestones you made special, but
most of all, I honor you for always being present. I wish
to acknowledge my aunt and namesake Ms Angela Touray who
has always been proud of my accomplishments and always
prayed for my success, you are wonderful.
Thanks to Miss. Joanna (Jodi) Mendy, for loving me
completely, especially on days when writing this thesis
proved harder than I imagined and for being the best sister
God could give me. Someone once said that you do not choose
the family you have God gives them to you. I am truly
blessed that way. I wish to acknowledge my entire extended
family for their loving support and kindness.
To the many friends I've made around the world, Iris
Samuels-Schmidt, Alia Thobani ,Richmond Boakye, I always
feel your love and thanks for being great friends.
In conclusion, I would like to say that this degree
that will be awarded does not mean much if I do not share
it with the average African girl, the one whose face and
determination I see myself in, the one who fights to get
somewhere when they've been told they cannot make it. I
hope that you realize that the world needs to hear your
voices and I also hope that you never loose your sense of
what it means to possess a joyful spirit.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION ------------------------------------ 1
Research Question ------------------------------ 2
Relevance and Rationale-------------------------3
Literature Review------------------------------- 4
Outline of Thesis--------------------------------10
2. SHACKLED CONTINENT
Introduction ----------------------------------- 13
Culture and History------------------------------14
Poverty in the Land of Riches--------------------21
HIV/AIDS: Death of a Continent-------------------29
3. THE MIS-EDUCATION OF THE AFRICAN GIRL
History and Patriarchy:The Worst of Two Evils-- 41
Jeopardizing Africa's Promise: The Failure of
The Gambia and Girls' Education------------------50
4. MOVING TOWARD PARITY
Womens Federation of World Peace International- 60
Forum of African Women Educationalist------------62
WFWPI and FAWE: Toward Parity------------------- 64
5. ACHIEVING PARITY -------------------------------- 71
Goals and Strategies to Reform
Girls' Education in Africa
Areas of Further Research------------------------82
A. QUESTIONNAIRE--------------------------------- 84
LIST OF TABLES
3.1 Gender Parity & Secondary Education------46
4.1 Disparities in Secondary Education in
In the present world that we live in, education is a
crucial and important resource that guides many aspects of
economic, political and social life. Its importance is
acknowledged for many countries and peoples in the world,
but in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa (S.S.A), a
realization of its importance does not hold true for girls.
The lack of education for the girl child is morally unjust
and in direct violation of their human right to live
successful and productive lives. The International
Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights calls for the adherence to the "right to free
primary education and to accessible education at all
According to the United Nations Children's Fund
(UNICEF),"130 million children in developing countries do
not attend school, and a billion people, mostly women,
cannot read or write ,a violation of rights and a loss of
potential and productivity the world can no longer
^united Nations High Commission for Human Rights, "International
Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights",
http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/a_cescr.htm,[Accessed, November 2008]
tolerate".2 In S.S.A, over forty million children are out of
school and two-thirds of that number is female.3 The
universal and common solution that ensures equality in
Africa affording the opportunity for self-determination is
education. Education is the means through which the
African girl can realize her great potential.
In this paper, I will explore gender disparities in
education in S.S.A providing and examining the factors that
create those inequalities. This paper will include a case
study of The Gambia, and a comparative analysis of two non-
governmental agencies that advocate for the education of
At the end of this exploration, I will present some
policy recommendations aimed at governments in sub-Saharan
Africa to elevate the status of girls through education and
some strategies to facilitate the adoption and success of
the recommended policies.
This research study attempts to answer the following
questions: What are the factors that prevent the education
of the girl child in Africa and specifically The Gambia?
United Nations, "Making the Right to Education a Reality, UNICEF calls
for Stronger Action in Africa and Developing Regions", Africa Recovery
Online, A United Nations Publication 12, no.3,
What strategies do NGOs advocate in girls education? To
what degree do these strategies address the factors that
limit girl's education? Based on these analyses, I will
offer a set of recommendations to alleviate gender
disparities in education.
Relevance and Rationale
The significance of this research is to gauge the
correlation between underdevelopment in Africa and girls'
education. The rationale is to raise the question of human
capabilities, an approach offered by Amartya Sen and Martha
Nussbaum. Nussbaum reflects on ten central human
capabilities, among them, the idea of Sense, Imagination
and Thought11. In this concept, Nussbaum emphasizes the
being able to use the senses, to imagine, think,
reason and to do these things in a truly human way, a
way informed and cultivated by an adequate education,
including but by no means limited to literacy and
basic mathematical and scientific training. 4 5 6
She also asserts the importance of "being able to use one's
mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of
expression with respect to both political and artistic
speech".0 Central to these notions of realizing these
4Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development, [Cambridge UK: Cambridge
University Press, 2000], 78-81.
capabilities is developing a framework for girls' education
that implements and regulates new policies toward parity
The education of girls has been a major issue around
the world. Nussbaum argues that in "developing countries,
there are 60% more women than men among illiterate adults".
In sub-Saharan Africa, the female adult literacy rate,
2000-2004, was 53.3%, which was 73.3% of the male literacy
rate.7 8 The percentage of girls in primary schools in 2006
was 47% and at the secondary level, the percentage of girls
in school was slightly lower at 44%.9 In contrast with the
developed world, African girls have limited access to
higher education; Esi Sutherland-Addy shows that only 2.5%
of women in S.S.A have access to tertiary education
compared to 49.8% in Europe and 93.8% in North America.10
The gap between the education levels of African boys and
girls is among the most extreme in the world. The United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) finds that in 2006, the male to female gross
* World Resources Institute. Earth Trends.
November 16, 2008].
10 Esi Sutherland-Addy, "Gender Equity in Junior and Senior Secondary
Education in Sub-Saharan Africa", [Washington D.C: World Bank
Resources/No.8_Gender.pdf [Accessed November 2008]24.
enrollment ratio was 101-89 with a gender parity index of
.89.11 This signifies that for every 89 girls enrolled in
school, there were 100 boys in school.
The intense nature of the issue is being addressed by
inter- governmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental
organization (NGOs), African nations, feminists and critics
in general. The United Nations for instance, finds that
the international community has reiterated its
commitment to girls' education numerous times
since 2000. Yet, while there is widespread
agreement that more must be done and spent to
improve girls' primary school enrollment and
completion rates, there is still little
consensus on how this should be achieved.12
The UN also argues that for substantive achievements to be
gained, the question of what is meant by "education for
all" has to be conceptualized.13
The discourse on girls' education has centered on the
role of women in the 21st century. Authors such as Bloch,
Beoku-Betts and Tabachnick second the UN's assertion that
11 UNESCO Institute for Statistics, "Regional average of enrolment ratios
for pre-primary to tertiary education", [Paris: UNESCO Publications,
[Accessed November 2008].
12 Ann Cotton, "The Importance of Educating Girls and Women: The Fight
against Poverty in African Rural Communities", The UN Chronicle,XLV
http://www.un.org/Pubs/chronicle/2007/issue4/04 07p4 9.html, [Accessed
July 15, 2008].
all children should have access to education.14 These
scholars demonstrate a connection between girl's education
and economic, social and political development. They
question the role of formal education versus informal
education and the responsibility and function of the state
in the creation and perpetuation of inefficient education
systems and curriculum.
For Bloch, Beoku-Betts and Tabachnick, the vital
question becomes whether "schooling or training for females
is seen as a critical strategy of development or as an
institution that dis-empowers sub-Saharan African
Other scholars, such as Materu, show that there are
direct and indirect blockages to girl's education. These
obstacles include financial needs, traditional and cultural
practices, the poor quality of the environment and learning
process, inadequate healthcare, insecurity and civil
unrest, and un-enforced laws and policies geared toward
protecting girls and women.10
14 Marianne Bloch, Josephine.A.Beoku-Betts, and B.Robert Tabachnick,
eds. Power, Opportunities Women and Education on Sub-Saharan Africa:
and Constraints, [Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers 1998] .
lcPeter Materu. Higher Education Quality Assurance in Sub-Saharan Africa
Status, Challenges, Opportunities, and Promising Practices. The World
Bank [July 2007].
31. [Accessed February 2008],
Ruth Levine also argues for the benefits of girls'
education.1' She posits that crucial in its own right for
recognizing individual potential, girls' education could
transform the life chances of the girls themselves, their
future families and the societies in which they live.18
Levine and other scholars are guick to emphasize that
although there are many constraints, the possibilities for
transformation become feasible when a society understands
that the girls' education can lead to socio-economic
development for the long and short term.
While the scholars agree that girls' education is
valuable, Egbo emphasizes that educating girls has
accomplished less than some believe, cautioning that girls'
education alone will not transform existing power
structures.19 She writes that educational institutions in
S.S.A are steeped in male values and will never allow the
voices of women to be heard".20 She argues that
Women's access to education, economic and professional
growth thus far has not necessarily transformed their
status or what may be considered as the root of the
problem: patriarchal systems and cultural norms that
discriminate and undervalue women as well as
Ruth Levine, Cynthia Lloyd, Margaret Greene and Caren Grown, "Girls
Count: A Global Investment and Action Agenda", [Washington D.C: Center
for Global Development, 2008].
February 28, 2008].
1>f Benedicta Egbo, Gender, Literacy and Life Chances in Sub-Saharan
Africa, [Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters LTD, 2002], 7-8.
educational systems that are entrenched in patriarchal
The simple argument is that women's education has not
yet created gender equality. Egbo further argues that the
campaigns for universal girls' education have been
ineffective in reducing the strength of existing power
dynamics, adding that the call for gender equality may just
be a ploy to rationalize injustices that result from an
unreasonable desire to control and dominate women.22
While the scholars cited above have addressed many of
the issues on girls' education, still many other issues
remain largely unexamined. These include but are not
limited to what can and needs be done to ensure that there
is reduced conflict between education and culture, how can
the power structures in place be modified to guarantee that
the education of girls and women has positive consequences,
what policies can be created that will not harm women and
girls and will be easily accepted by parents, education
departments and governments, and finally how can all of
this be accomplished?
This study is a qualitative exploration of the factors
that prevent girls from being adequately educated. I will
look first at the factors that limit growth in S.S.A,
followed by an examination of schooling in Africa, a case
study of the Gambia, the work of NGOs and strategies for
change. This will be performed through secondary data
analysis and in-depth online and in-person interviews with
NGO leaders who are on the frontlines of the battle to
change the state of the African girl through education. As
an African woman, my experiences in this educational system
serve as an additional viewpoint in this research.
NGO's were selected for examination in this thesis,
the Women's Federation of World Peace International (WFWPI)
and the Forum of African Women Educationalist (FAWE).These
organizations were selected because of the work they
perform in education in sub-Saharan Africa and the level of
experience they exhibit through their advocacy programs for
universal education in the region.
WFWPI's selection is based on several meetings with
the chair of its Colorado chapter. The organization's
dedication to universal education through their Schools of
Africa Project was a deciding factor. FAWE was selected
because of its goal to mainstream gender in national
education programs in S.S.A. The organization is composed
of a diverse selection of leaders who advocate gender
equality. Their many chapters lead the advocacy for policy
reforms in education in the region.
The NGOs were studied through NGO materials and
through interviews with organizational spokespersons. The
interview participants understood that their participation
was voluntary and that the interviews would focus only on
the function of the organizations.
The biggest limitation is the lack of field research.
I would have liked to study girl's education in Africa
while being physically present. In addition, the vantage
points of the two NGOs studied may not necessarily be
representative of the wide range of NGOs addressing girls'
education in Africa.
Outline of the Thesis
The thesis will look at the obstacles that limit
girls' education in S.S.A. The first chapter presents the
framework of the project. The second chapter focuses on
Africa as a shackled continent through an examination of
the obstacles that limit development on the continent. I
will present factors that I believe contribute to the
gender gap in education, namely economic, social and
political factors as well as cultural practices. The third
chapter focuses on the mis-education of the African girl
and presents a case study of the Gambia. The fourth chapter
addresses the approaches of the two NGOs that are
advocating girls' education in S.S.A. The fifth chapter
presents the obstacles and strategies that I have
identified from the NGOs that participated in the research.
Drawing on the perspectives of the NGO's and my own
experiences, I will make recommendations on girls'
In this thesis, I want to establish that
underdevelopment contributes to the lack of education
available to African girls, which in turn contributes to
further underdevelopment. Research has shown that educated
mothers lead to educated daughters and women and girls hold
the key to resolving the problem of illiteracy.23 I expect
to discover as well, broader issues of culture and
traditions are crucial and central to education in Africa.
I expect that I will also find that they are political
aspects to gender inequality in education.
On a different level, I want my thesis to serve a
bigger purpose. As an African woman, I am passionate to
engage in this discourse because I want other African girls
Levine, Lloyd, Greene and Grown, "Girls Count", 1-9.
as well as policy makers to read it and comprehend that
African women should not simply be considered victims of an
antiquated and traditionalist system. Instead, African
females should be commended for acting to recreate new
paths in education for themselves, their daughters and
Finally, I hope that this paper would be a platform for
moving beyond our past and toward future advancement.
CHAPTER 2: A SHACKLED CONTINENT
This chapter presents the context in which girls'
education in Africa is analyzed. It centers on the sources
of their marginalization, drawing ideas from issues such as
culture, history, poverty, HIV/AIDS and war. These factors
highlight barriers to the literacy and development of
girls, but above all else, these issues which are
fundamental to living a successful life also contribute to
the destruction of the African socio- economic and
political landscape, limiting substantive development as
the world proceeds into the 21st century.
For centuries, the narrative on the life of the
African girl and woman has been expressed largely in
relation to their association with African males24.
Nevertheless, the African female remains an active
participant in the cultural, social-economic and political
development of their societies. Their evolution has seen a
downward progression from integral pillars of their
societies to marginalized victims through illiteracy and
24 Nancy J.Hafkin and Edna G.Bay, eds. Women in Africa Studies and
Economic Change, [CA Stanford University Press, 1976].
Culture and History
Writing briefly about Africa and its culture is as
daunting as it is to write about its history. Considered
the cradle of humanity, Africa is a complex continent of
extremes: of boundless wealth and of devastating poverty.
Within those extremes, a majestically diverse place and
people endure the joys and pains of human life like any
other group of people. In Africa, over eight hundred
different cultures not only differ from each other, but
also share many common characteristics and values.25 26
As much as culture is about a group of people and a
particular place, African culture is rooted in centuries'
old cultural institutions that have proven difficult to
transform. One important communality across Africa is the
idea of communalism: placing the interest of the society
before the individual.^ The importance of communalism can
be seen in the socialization process of the African girl.
The cultural commonalities and diversity of African
life are reproduced through socialization. Socialization is
the process through which a society's values and principles
are indoctrinated into the lives of the youth in that
culture.2. In Africa, from birth through early adulthood,
children learn the principles, customs and rules that make
2' Vincent B. Khapoya .The African Experience, An Introduction. [New
Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998] 13-26.
communal life effortless. Chevannes suggests that gender
socialization is the "process during which those values,
customs and behavioral norms that account for sexual
differentiation in adult personal identity and behavior are
transmitted".28 Gender socialization asserts itself very
early. Young girls in rural and urban Africa learn women's
work early as well as the ability to discern sexual and
gender differences by imitating the actions of their
mothers and grandmothers29. As a young girl growing up in
the tiny West African nation of The Gambia, I observed
women's roles and I understood what was acceptable and what
was not. I could discern ways to act, dress, and when to
speak. In places like Senegal, Guinea, Mali and Benin, Awa
Thiam discovers that sexual initiations and rituals such as
clitoridectomy and infibulation become markers of sexual
These processes of socialization into African society
subordinate women by creating what Christine Obbo labels as
"invisibility"31. Obbo argues that women's invisibility
through their socialization has meant that half of the
people in societies have not been given the option or
2l< Barry Chevannes, Learning to be a Man, Culture, Socialization and
Gender Identity in Five Caribbean Communities, [Jamaica, The University
of West Indies Press, 2001], 14.
30 Awa Thiam, Black Sisters Speak : Feminism and Oppression in Black
Africa,[Massachusetts : Pluto Press. 1991],57-58
31 Christine Obbo, African Women: Their Struggles for Economic
Independence, [London: Zed Press, 1980], 1.
freedom to express their thoughts, fears, and hopes on the
subjects of labor, reproduction, child rearing and
sexuality32. Through the processes of maintaining African
norms and culture, the African girl is bound to the
cyclical system of being mute and voiceless.
Unfortunately, for many young girls, the opportunity
to challenge and break the cultural chains that bind their
intellectual capacity does not afford itself. Obbo also
argues that the socialization that takes place early in
life follows them through adulthood as women in many
instances "resist change even when it is sweeping them
Thiam stresses that the black woman is not part of any
decisions especially those that affect her wellbeing. Her
actions are appropriate as long as she is of no
embarrassment to her family.J1 She argues that women in
Africa have been "abused and condemned and/or misunderstood
by colonials, neo-colonials and the majority of her fellow
black man"35. The black woman found herself catapulted
between the double-edged sword of colonial and traditional
rule, and its perils are still affecting her daughters.
There is debate among scholars regarding the extent to
which these cultural institutions pre-date the encounter
33 Ibid, 157
3<1Ibid, 14 .
with the West or are primarily the result of colonialism.
Despite one's position in this debate, there is broad
agreement that today African women are subordinate to their
According to Cutrefelli, the current state of the life
of the African woman is based both on the nature of
traditional African societies and in the oppressive systems
that were slavery and colonialism.JO Cutrefelli implies that
the rigid gender division of labor in traditional African
societies formed the basis for subsequent decline in
women's power. She argues that colonialism contributed to
the marginalization of women in sub-Saharan Africa.3, The
violent nature of slavery and colonization in conjunction
with trepidation and insecurity led to a "hardening
attitude in traditional societies toward the feminine role,
the social duty of motherhood, became more binding, even a
kind of social obsession, and in allowing no option, a
sentence against woman".* 37 38
Slavery depleted Africa of its human resource and
potential while colonialism robbed it of natural resources
and slowed economic development. An estimated "twelve
million men and women were taken from the continent from
1440-1870; it would simply be inhumane to maintain feelings
3bMaria Rosa Cutrefelli. Women of Africa Roots of Oppression. [London,
Zed P, 1982]. 1-179
38 Ibid, 2.
other than fear and anxiety".39 Schwab contends that, "the
culture, once united by its group or collective notion, had
been turned on its head".40 While slavery changed the
African landscape, its abolition did not end Africa's
encounter with the West.
The advent of colonialism created new power dynamics
such as the imposition of taxation and ownership laws.
Allman, Geiger and Musisi discuss African women's
encounters with colonials.41 These scholars suggest that the
colonial impact, far from liberating African women,
actually reduced the privileges they formerly enjoyed.
Allman et al argue that colonial perceptions and
representations of African women profoundly affected the
ways in which women lived their lives and negotiated social
relationships.42 The scholars posit that Western conceptions
of women's proper roles, arrogance, ignorance and the need
for power, negated women's economic activities, mobility,
political power and status in their respective societies.43
Colonialism destroyed Africa's cultural ways of being. The
presence of colonials strengthened the ideas of male
domination and female subordination, recreating relational
power structures. It drastically shifted preexisting
39Khapoya, The African Experience, 92-93.
40 Peter Schwab, Africa: A Continent Self-Destructs, [New York:
Palgrave, 2001], 13.
41 Jean Allman, Susan Geiger and Nakanyike Musisi, Women in African
Colonial Histories, [Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2002], 8.
divisions of labor, forcing men to take jobs in urban
areas, forcing women into poverty as sole breadwinners and
Africa perpetually characterized as poor and without hope.
Scholars argue that historically, colonialism harmed
the development of the African woman by removing the idea
of separate but equal and instilling a perception of the
superiority of men over women. Hafkin and Bay suggest that
a grave error occurred as
Western observers, frequently unaware of the
prerogatives of women in African societies, saw
the advent of European colonialism as a positive
event for African women. The light of western
Christianity and education would lift them from
the toil of agricultural labor, the burden of
polygyny and forced marriage and the pain of
clitoridectomy to a richer and more fulfilling
Hafkin and Bay show that contrary to this belief,
colonialism actually had a retarding effect on the African
woman resulting to a substantial loss in their economic,
political and intellectual growth.45 46
Colonialism in Africa had contradictory effects on
women. Some African women in colonial times were active
participants in the creation of the colonial world.40 They
aimed for and reached statuses of fame and importance.
46 Allman, Musisi, and Geiger, Women in African Colonial Histories, 6.
For example, there were the Signares of the Senegambia
region whose names are a play off the Portuguese word for
woman, Senhora. Being of African and European descent, they
honed the talent that allowed them to navigate between the
colonial world and their traditional world experiences.
The signares obtained "numerous domestic slaves, trading
craft and houses, as well as quantities of gold and silver
jewelry and splendid clothing".4. They gained considerable
economic consequence and contributed to creating a
lifestyle attractive to Europeans so they refused to obey
company directives against cohabitation and commerce with
African women.* 48
The market women of Southeastern Nigeria are another
example of women who challenged the colonial
administrations newly imposed tax laws. They refused to
endure abuses from colonial government, while men often
resigned to these abuses out of fear.4& In 1929, colonial
administrators could not elude the wrath of market women in
Nigeria. The market women engaged colonial administrators
in a riot considered the largest women's riot in African
history. These women organized themselves through their
social networks taking their rulers by surprise. In the
end, thirty-two women lost their lives but without first
4 Hafkin and Bay. Women in Africa, 22-23.
4- John. E.E. Njoku, The World of the African Woman, [New Jersey, The
scarecrow Press, 1980], 41-46.
demonstrating to the world, the injustices of colonial rule
and changing the British policy of direct rule.30
The effects of colonialism are still present in
Africa; perhaps only time can and will tell if Africans are
able to find a middle ground between what was and what is
to be. Whichever one happens, the time is now as Africa and
Africans cannot continue to live with its consequences.
Poverty: In the Land of Riches
The framework in which poverty in Africa is spelled
out is broad, compelling and challenging. It is not
conciliatory nor does it need to end at being a challenge.
In the words of the African author Chinua Achebe, "Things
Have Fallen Apart" but the true test of Africa's growth and
development will unfold in how well it rises and claims the
twenty-first century as its time* 51.
Despite its characterizations as the cradle of
humankind and the birthplace of civilization, the African
continent still stands alone in the era of technological
growth as the poorest continent on earth. Shaohau and
Ravillion write that between 1981 and 2005, the number of
jl Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart: A Novel, [New York: Broadway Books,
poor people has risen from approximately 200 million to 380
million in S.S.A, the majority of whom are women.52 Bloch et
al contend that in the 1990s, the number of "least
developed countries in Africa increased from seventeen to
twenty-eight.53 The majority of Africans these scholars
estimate live under $1.25 a day.54
Khayopa argues that the scramble for Africa in 1884 by
European powers not only created new boundaries, but also
"forced Africans to live and work in unfamiliar and
severely restricted political system of colonial rule".55 In
satisfying their imperial needs, these rulers committed an
egregious offense in the process. European nations operated
in Africa to civilize the Dark Continent but in fact made
the conditions worse. They left in the minds of Westerners
and Africans, Africans' lack of socio-economic and
intellectual prowess, inferiority and natural tendencies to
be savage-like and incapable of ruling themselves.
Shaohau Chen, Martin Ravillion, "The developing world is poorer than
we thought and no less successful in the fight against poverty",
[Policy Research Working Paper, World Bank, 2006],
39, [Accessed 10/2008].
53 Bloch, Beoku-Betts and Tabachnick, Education and Women in Sub-Saharan
Khapoya, The African Experience, 69.
Khapoya emphasizes the work of the European scholar
C.G Seligman who presented a "Hamitic Hypothesis" that
suggested a correlation between skin color and the ability
to be a civilized individual. Seligman in his the Races of
Africa advocated a view that did not accept that the "dark-
skinned Negroid race could have developed remarkable
civilizations as an ancient Kush and Axum or medieval Mali
and Songhai".5 This view although inaccurate would have
long lasting effects.
The inaccuracy of this stereotype can be seen in the
examples of the Akan kingdoms of Ghana where the Ashanti
kings and queens organized themselves into highly organized
and centralized units of government or in Egypt were a
queen named Hatshepsut gained power and was able to
strengthen the economic development of her kingdom.5' Basil
Davidson highlights the racism underlying colonial
perceptions of Africa. He writes that the "crude and
inchoate prejudices of the slaving era were gathered
together in a skein of bigoted philosophy, while on the
ground, out there in Africa, the old acceptance of innate
equality between all human beings was thrown over board.56 58
Davidson continues that for Europe "Africans would do what
they were told and their countries would be developed for
56C.G Seligman, The Races of Africa, [London: Home University Libraries,
5 Basil Davidson, The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the
Nation State, [New York: Crown Press, 1992], 41.
59 Regrettably, for Africa, the modernization promised
never came to fruition.
The consequences of slavery and colonialism in Africa
may have been devastating, but in an effort to try to catch
up to the rest of the world at least modestly, it is
imperative that Africa looks introspectively at itself. It
is important to deviate from the idea that slavery and
colonialism are the singular causes of the African dilemma.
Caught between the perils of slavery and colonialism
and the desire to ignore a conquered past, the relatively
young democracies of S.S.A failed to take advantage of
1950s nationalist movements and the independence that
followed. Perhaps both movements were flawed as the
question of Africa's poverty and underdevelopment remains a
fundamental part of development discourse. The clear answer
is elusive but scholars such as Robert Guest have argued
that the economic instability of S.S.A can be attributed to
slavery, colonialism and their legacies resulting in a
continent that is plagued by violence, hunger, death and
desperation.50 Simply stated, Africa's economic problems are
the manifestation of what Jurgen Habermas calls a
"legitimation crisis".* 60 61 Applying this concept to Africa, a
legitimation crisis is the notion that African leaders have
60 Robert Guest, The Shackled Continent, [Washington, Smithsonian Books,
61 Jurgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, [Massachusetts, Beacon
legal authority by which to govern, but these leaders fail
at governance leading to a loss of public confidence. The
incompetence of political leaders, their corrupt policies
and Africa's dependence on foreign aid has left a climate
that diminishes the political and social landscape of the
place and its people.
The responsibility for Africa's economic failure has
to rest on leaders who assumed power at independence and
continued with a European style of governing. Chazan et al
suggest that "the formal agencies transferred to Africans
were thus alien in derivation, functionally conceived,
bureaucratically designed, authoritarian in nature and
primarily concerned with issues of domination rather than
The struggle to distance Africa from its cultural past
has made life harder for its citizens and as the conflict
climaxes the fight for survival becomes more dangerous. In
a continent with so many natural resources, from the
diamond mines of Botswana to the lush coasts of the
Senegambia region, Africans should not have to survive on
less than one U.S dollar a day.b3 With the gross domestic
product- per capita for most countries under the SI000 63
52 Naomi Chazan, Peter Lewis, Robert Mortimer, Donald Rothchild, and
Stephen John Stedman, Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa,
[Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publications, 1999], 43.
63 Alan Gelb, "Can Africa claim the 21Â£t century?", [Washington DC. World
Bank Publications, 2000], 10.
mark, this lack of resources is the grounds for limited
human capabilities, war, HIV/AIDS, gender based violence
and many other challenges.64
While Africa's' economic quandaries are demoralizing,
its main problem lies with leadership. Africa, since
independence has attracted leaders who were surrogates of
colonial administrators. These are leaders whose Western
education accelerated the lowering of the Union Jack and
Tricolore and erected new flags that symbolized the African
struggle and spirit, but failed tremendously at realizing
that Africa requires governance founded on its own terms.
Chazan et al argue that these leaders possessed inadequate
skills and judgment to govern small areas let alone a
nation.65 These scholars continue that the newly elected
leaders at independence were
confronted with the paradoxical situation of having
to operate with newly conceived pluralist
institutions of alien derivation whereas the bulk
of their own political understanding had been
molded in a centralized and authoritarian colonial
Simply stated, these scholars maintain that African
leaders took over a structure of "control but lacked the
Chazan, hevis, Mortimer, Rothchild,
in Contemporary Africa, 45.
Politics and Society
foundation and support to successfully establish
priorities and pursue policy".'0'
Basil Davidson characterizes African leaders as tne
"children of their ancestral cultures caught between two
worlds and are the products of an alienation which
rejects those cultures, denies them moral force and
overrides the imperative of custom and constraint".uS Their
continuation of the West's system of governance brought a
brief period of stability that was destroyed by endless
military coups in the early 1980s and into the present.
Chazan et al conclude that the inheritance of this system
of administration characterizes the fundamental problem of
African governments at this time.09
Davidson argues that African leaders fail at meeting
the needs of their citizens because of huge egos and
competing power bases and elaborates that
development strategies in Africa, with few
exceptions have tended to be strategies by which
few monopolize the many for their purposes. They
are uncompromisingly top-down and there is not
and never has been popular participation in
political and economic decision-making.
Everything on the contrary is done to limit the
expression of popular interest and to ensure
acquiescence in policies, which are hostile to
the public interest.'0 69 70
6 Ibid, 46.
Si?Basil Davidson. The Black Man's Burden, 246.
69Chazan, Lewis, Mortimer, Rothchild, and Stedman, Politics and Society
in Contemporary Africa, 46.
70 Ibid ,292.
Davidson suggests that progress and growth in Africa has
evolved into a determined and resolute assault against
citizens, "producing a theatre of alienation".71 72 73
Davison further argues, that leaders of African nations
play to the ethnic differences of their people and fail to
fundamental inner relations with their
underprivileged and dispossessed citizens, and to
maintain a means of living together by approaches
less primitive and destructive than adversary
kinship networks, whether of "ethnic" clientalism or
its disguise in no less clientalist "multi-party
Africa's development lies in an investment in its
people. The World Bank asserts this claim, stating, "Africa
will not be able to sustain rapid growth without investing
in its people. Many lack the health, education, and access
to contribute to and benefit from high growth".'3
The following sections will highlight the ways in
which poverty through structural violence and ineffective
leadership has continued to obstruct the development of
_1 Ibid, 294.
72 Ibid, 291.
73 Gelb, "Can Africa claim the 21f' century?", 2.
HIV/AIDS: Death of a Continent
HIV/AIDS has become to the world a disease that
disregards borders or boundaries. In Africa, it affects
lives directly and indirectly discounting nationality,
ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, age and economics. World
Bank statistics show that in 2006, almost twenty-five
million people in Africa had HIV/AIDS; fifty-nine percent
of this huge number were women.'4 This report further notes
that young women aged 15 to 25 are at least three times or
more likely to become infected than men in the same age
group, a result of women's lack of education, and low
The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in African communities,
whether rural or urban, has effects that mostly burden
young and elderly women. To understand the magnitude of the
crisis in Africa, the nature of the disease requires
examination. HIV and AIDS respectively stand for Human
Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency
Syndrome. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS on the
other hand can be defined as the medical designation for
the set of symptoms, infections and laboratory markers 74
74World Bank, "The Facts of AIDS in Africa Today", [Washington DC: World
Bank Publications, 2006],
40037 07-theSitePK:717148,00.html, [Accessed 7/18/2008] .
indicating that a person is in an advanced stage of HIV
infection with and impaired immune system".'0 Fallows, Irwin
and Millen also mention that AIDS does not develop over
night, it takes years, a period of ten years in some cases.
When HIV enters the body through unprotected sex with
an infected person, blood transfusions, or drug injections,
it "attacks certain cells of the immune system called the
"helper T-cells" or CD4 Cells, which are responsible for
helping the body fight infections".'' During this time the
virus is silently and "actively multiplying, infecting, and
killing cells in the immune system".'8 HIV in its latter
stages destroys more CD4 cells until the body no longer can
fight off bacteria and other viruses.'5 The dying patient is
left with bouts of "diarrhea, enlarged lymph nodes in the
neck, armpits, and groin, fever, headache, muscle aches and
joint pain, skin rash sore throat just to name a few
In S.S.A, ignorance increased the spread of AIDS. The
crisis has a woman's face to it because of myths,
f,Irwin, Millen and Fallows, Global AIDS, Xxv-xxvii.
Alexander Irwin, Joyce Millen and Dorothy Fallows, Global AIDS: Myths
and Facts: tools fox fighting AIDS Pandemic, [ Massachusetts: South End
Press, 2003], Xxv-xxvii
ea Web MD, "Symptoms of AIDS", www.aol.com/health.webmd, [Accessed 2008]
traditions, poverty and inaccessibility of education.
Socially AIDS is silently tearing Africa apart, destroying
the complex organization of communities and family units,
exposing children to the difficult task of surviving on
their own in an unforgiving world. Emma Guest posits that
the perils of AIDS have consequences that linger long after
the inflicted dies: "It continues through the lives of the
children who are orphaned".81 Guest also shows that about
"80 per cent of the worlds AIDS orphans are African82". This
is quite a staggering number. Fleshman points to United
Nations figures that show that 75% of women with HIV are
between the ages of fourteen to twenty-four.BJ How
unfathomable it is to grow up an AIDS orphan in Africa? The
odds at a successful and productive life seem to be against
you. The African girl who is a victim of the AIDS pandemic
not only has to deal with the inability to attend school
but also has to be cautious of abuse and violence.
In S.S.A, young girls and women are raped every
seventeen seconds in very violent ways. In a Namibian 83
?1 Emma Guest, Children of AIDS Africa's Orphan Crisis, [London: Pluto
Press, 2001], 1.
83 Michael Fleshman, "Women: the Face of AIDS in Africa. More Action
needed against High Female Infection rates", Africa Renewal, 18 no.3,
6, [October 2004],
study, 95% of 1020 women surveyed stated that their first
sexual encounter was forced.34 One reason for this is the
cultural myth that if a man is infected with HIV, the only
way he can cure himself is by sex with a virgin.85
Madhu Bala Nath writes on traditions and myths that
fuel the spread of the disease.8 Traditions of female
subordination are one component. There is the tradition
wherein women are to remain demure and quiet. Married women
are not to question their husbands or tell them to use
condoms. They cannot say no when they suspect that their
husbands are having affairs because that would be
impertinent and brazen.
Myths are misconceptions that we as human beings hold
about ideas or issues that we cannot understand or are
simply not willing to understand. Nath argues that one of
the most dangerous myths prevalent in Africa regarding
HIV/AIDS is that it does not exist: "because HIV/AIDS is so
frightening, there is temptation to deny the existence of
the disease".8' This mindset allows people to not take
accountability and blame for their actions.
Another factor that contributes to the spread of
HIV/AIDS in Africa is the issue of infidelity. In most
ei1 Irwin, Millen and Fallows, Global AIDS: Myths and Facts ,31
e:Linda Lowen, "Virgin Cure: Myths about AIDS and STDS", [Published
tm. [Accessed 10/2008].
e6 Madhu Bala Nath, From Tragedy, Toward Hope, Men, Women and the AIDS
Epidemic, [London: Commonwealth Secretariat Publications, 2001], 27-35.
African societies, the religious and traditional acceptance
of polygamy adds to the growth of the disease. Often men do
not care about the other women they have sexual contacts
with because there is no emotional attachment. They go back
to their homes and to their wives who end up getting the
disease without knowing what has happened. Not only do
wives become infected, but once they acquire HIV/AIDS their
husbands and families ostracize them.
Another problematic factor is the inability of most
women to afford medical treatment for HIV/AIDS. Nancy
Harris points out that "poverty in developing countries has
also blocked the development of adequate health care
facilities and the purchase of medicines even at
drastically reduced prices".88 Since half of Africa's
population lives on less than U.S $1 a day, the average
woman with AIDS is unable to buy anti-retroviral medicines
to manage the disease. The reductions in drug costs have
not done much to alleviate the rapid spread of the disease
because the price of the medication remains beyond the
means of those living on $1 a day.89 Poverty in developing
nations not only blocks access to affordable AIDS
medication, it also helps contribute to the increase of the
Nancy Harris, At Issue: AIDS in Developing Countries, [Michigan:
Greenhaven Press 2003],5
^Debrewok Zewdie, "Meeting on sustaining treatment costs -who will
pay", [Washington D.C: World Bank Publications, 2007],
disease. The cycle continues as an infected man, unable to
buy the appropriate medication, becomes anxious and resorts
to raping a virgin. For that reason, women run a greater
risk of having HIV.
Finally, there is the monumental issue that is
the lack of education. This is possibly the biggest factor
in the spread of AIDS in Africa and among women. When large
percentages of women are illiterate and have a limited
knowledge of the ferocity of AIDS and incomprehension of
the capability of the virus to destroy the human body,
there is denial and mostly a lax attitude. AIDS in turn has
a devastating impact on education. The Impact of AIDS, a
yearly report on AIDS in Africa by the United Nations,
notes, "AIDS is degrading the supply and quality of
education and may disrupt schooling for a whole generation
of children".30 Even those girls who attend school are not
likely to receive information about HIV/AIDS. The
atmosphere in which students learn about the reproductive
system as part of a biology course is hostile.
Africa has only achieved limited progress. People
are dying every single day, and mothers, wives, daughters
and sisters are losing their battles with AIDS. Many
governments are still denying that AIDS is taking over
their countries; for example, the former president of South
Africa Thabo Mbeki, who while he was vice president
5,0 Harris, AIDS in Developing Countries, 5.
asserted that, "HIV and AIDS were not related issues".91 He
later backtracked from those controversial comments.
However, Thabo Mbeki is not the only African
leader who has strange ideas on AIDS in Africa; others have
supposedly found the cure without much scientific
evidence.92 It seems that leaders in Africa are more willing
to spend money on futile endeavors than on education,
prevention and medication for AIDS.
The world and Africans themselves, governments
especially, have to understand that the AIDS crisis is
behind its denial stage. There needs to be peer education
and education for all societal groups on the issue,
information sharing needs to occur, and the dismantling of
the cultural chains that bind women into silence has to
take place. Programs that encourage young girls from an
early age and women to have self- worth and self-reliance
are important to implement. Mrs. Agnes John-Thomasi, a
media practitioner and gender equality advocate, points out
that to create a nation free of HIV/AIDS, men and boys
should be involved not only to implement programs but also
to take responsibility for their actions.93
5,1 Schwab, Africa: A Continent Self-Destructs, 109-110.
92 Alieu Jobe, "Another Breakthrough", Daily Observer, Published 4/2008,
93 Agnes John Thomasi, interview by author, Denver, CO, April 2004.
The solution of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa is
simply education. Nelson Mandela once said, "Education is
the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the
world"-.94 If education remains inadequate on this deadly
virus, the unending chain of desperation, pain and
suffering will not be broken and we will all have to pay a
very devastating price.
Since the 1970s, war has become a constant in the
lives of too many African people. The United Nations report
on the Causes of conflict and promotion of durable peace
and sustainable development in Africa discusses the more
than "two -dozen wars," most of them intra-state in origin
in Africa.95 96 It describes that in 1996, 14 of 53 countries
in Africa were engaged in armed conflicts resulting in more
than half of all war-related deaths worldwide and more than
8 million refugees, returnees and displaced persons".S'J It
1,4 Nelson Mandela, "All Great Quotes",
95 Kofi Annan, "Causes of conflict and promotion of durable peace and
sustainable development in Africa",[New York, United Nations
is safe to assume that the outcomes of these conflicts have
contributed to the underdevelopment of the continent and
that women have been especially affected. Violence against
women is widespread particularly in war zones. In addition,
problems of gender justice and the re-integration of women
into society persist during post-conflict resolution.9'
Sexual violence against women is used as a weapon to
terrorize and elicit fear during war. For example,
according to Mary Kimani, in the Democratic Republic of
Congo, which has been in conflict over the last ten years,
rape has been a frequently used weapon against women.98
The prevalence of war in Africa is rooted in ethnic
inequalities, greed, and inadequate resources. For example,
Rwanda, in 1994 was engaged in an act of genocide that was
fuelled purely by ethnicity and inequality. A UN report,
Lessons from Rwanda, concludes that the dynamic of divide
and conquer based on ethnic differences set in motion by
colonizers has resulted in senseless brutality of the human
- Houda Mejri, "Major Gains and Challenges for Women in Africa", [New
York: UN Publications, 2005],
* Maxy Kimani, "Congolese Women confront Legacy of Rape", UN
Publications, Africa Renewal 20 no. 4,
women.html, [Accessed October 2008.]
soul." In other places, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, a
fight over natural resources and minerals has sent the once
prosperous nations into years of conflict.
This chapter has assessed the factors that have
limited the development of women in Africa. While it is
evident that these factors, culture and history, poverty,
HIV/AIDS and war pose serious dilemmas for Africa, the
inadequate response to theses challenges is even more
disheartening. These are the challenges that Africa faces,
and for women, they are even harder. The reality remains
that equality in education will be impeded until all these
obstacles are successfully addressed.
- United Nations, "Lessons from Rwanda", [New York: United Nations
Publications, 2007], http://www.un.org/preventgenocide/rwanda/,
[Accessed September 2008].
CHAPTER 3: THE MIS-EDUCATION OF THE AFRICAN GIRL
As a thirteen-year-old girl in the small West African
republic of the Gambia, I became an enthused advocate of
girls' education. My comprehension of the contentious
nature of the debate on girls' equality in education and
development in Africa possessed an urgency that was
misunderstood by teachers who considered my writing on the
subject controversial. Now, I find myself perhaps a little
wiser, declaring like many others that the gender
disparities in education in sub-Saharan African are
In this chapter, I highlight the lack of
education and literacy for the African female, presenting
the challenges to guaranteeing that girls have an equal
access to education. The main challenges to the education
of girls are history and patriarchy, policy and academic
factors, and the lack of strong and secure families that
place significant emphasis on the education of girls. The
chapter includes a case study of girls' education in the
Gambia. It is perhaps necessary to note that while much of
what I discuss in this chapter is based on scholarly
sources, some of the ideas offered will hail from my
experiences. These are ideas based on my life as a student
of African history, culture, and change in a fast-paced
world, and in addition to those factors, as an African girl
who has gone through the rigors of that failed education
In a recent report on girls' education, Levine, Lloyd,
Greene and Grown explicate several benefits to educating
girls. The authors find that the reward for an educated
female population becomes evident in the lasting economic
and socio-cultural changes that a country realizes.
Educating girls, these scholars note, guarantees that
societies are replicating themselves to be progressive as
the education of the means of production and reproduction
can sustain and maintain those societies. Education breaks
the generational transfer of poverty as future generations
are able to move up the economic ladder. An educated female
population increases participation in the labor market and
in politics. The authors in their research find that "the
size and competitiveness of an economy are determined
partly by how many girls complete their education with
marketable skillswhether acquired through formal or
informal meansand are afforded economic opportunities that
are not constrained by gender-based discrimination".100
Levine et al suggest that educating girls lowers fertility
rates, which leads to lower infant mortality rates.
100 Levine, Lloyd, Greene, and Grown, "Girls Count", 9-10
These are all factors that present incentives that far
outweigh the consequences of an uneducated daughter. For
S.S.A, changing centuries' old institutions is difficult
and time consuming, and all parties involved in the process
of conquering illiteracy have to be willing to do so
History and Patriarchy: The worst of two evils
The role of women in Africa and the inequities they
endure concerning education and literacy are topics of
endless debate and controversy. Unfortunately, for them,
all that discourse has amounted to little substantial
change. Although there has been an increase in girls'
enrollment in schools, problems where they fall behind
their male counterparts still linger.
The United Nations estimates that in sub-Saharan
Africa (S.S.A) between 2000-2006 male enrollments,
attendance, and literacy rates were higher than those of
females with the widest enrollment gap of 67% of males to
59% of girls in West Africa.101 In Africa, "twenty-two
nations show enrolment ratios for girls less than 80% that
101 United Nations, "State of the African Child- 2008", [New York: United
Nations Publications, 2008] www.UN.org/publications, [Accessed, August
of boys".102 The gap eventually affects all aspects of
women's human development capabilities in Africa.
The quest to improve the role of women in Africa
depends on the recognition of its history and traditions.
The model that education follows in Africa is fifty years
after independence a reflection of its encounters with a
European world. It is a model that disrupted the
progressive journey of the African woman. The establishment
of a school system under colonialism increased male
domination, as it provided education primarily for boys.
While the primary goal was for cheap labor in the form of
clerical work, the result was a shifting power dynamic that
would perhaps forever remain irreversible. The education
that men acquired became a cause for relocation to urban
areas, moving from subsistence farming and to a life that
depended on a fixed salaried income. Worst of all, in many
cases, women who could not afford to move with their
husbands, stayed in villages as single parents waiting for
what little their husbands could send. The "dependency
complex", the collective consciousness of Africans to
depend on the west and their inability to develop on their
own terms that Franz Fanon discusses in Black Skin, White
!02United Nations Statistics Division, "Worlds women 2000 Main
findings and future directions", [New York: United Nations
.htm, [Accessed, November 2008].
Masks, takes a different form in this instance and it has
not relinquished its tight grip.103
The admission of women into mission schools became
another attack on their dignity and integrity. Yes, the
system educated them, but it did so inadequately.
Missionary education worked under a veil of inclusion but
marginalized women to be passive observers. It restricted
them to what were seen as their innate abilities of
nurturing mothers and homemakers.
The legacy of mission schools in Africa continues
today. Magnus Bassey writes that "schools in Africa also
perpetuate sex-role stereotypes regarding behavior, emotion
and occupation between boys and girls".104 Bassey argues
that not only do schools teach girls to be homemakers but
also to accept a subservient role in the home. For those
females who had the opportunity to go beyond primary
education, secondary and vocational education did not put
emphasis on the math and sciences. Women gained access to
careers in the clerical, education and medical fields. They
worked as secretaries, teachers, and nurses, in jobs that
were subordinate to careers that men acquired as heads of
departments, permanent secretaries and ministers. Women
''Bassey, Western Education and Political Domination in Airica,9.
moved up but not to levels where they could warrant
Colonial and missionary education served the role
of exposing Africans to a Christian belief, a Western type
of civilization and to the rampant exploitation by colonial
rulers. For the African woman, it truncated even further
the possibility of their economic, social, and political
Jeopardizing Africa's Promise: The failure of Education
As an African woman, I dream of an Africa where the
average girl believes in her potential for her own
achievement. To argue that those charged with the difficult
a daunting task underscores the complexities of education
on the continent.
The failure of education ministries and by extension
governments lies in their inability to emphasize to parents
the political, economic and socio-cultural significance of
an educated female population. Their failure lies in their
incapacity to reduce major gender gaps in education. They
have failed to recruit girls to primary school and to
nurture female student's progress to junior and secondary
The following Table 3.1 from UNICEF reports
enrollment and attendance disparities between boys and
girls in secondary schools in selected countries in sub-
Saharan Africa. The table reveals two problems. First,
secondary school enrollments are very low: the percentage
of children enrolled ranges from 13.7% to 68.6%. Second,
there is a gender gap in enrollment in every country. This
gender gap exists in the country with the lowest enrollment
rates, Niger, where 16.9% of boys are enrolled and 10.6% of
the girls are enrolled. It also exists in the country with
the highest enrollment rates, Nigeria, where the percentage
of boys in school is 74% compared to 63% for girls. These
disparities emphasize that girls have many improvements to
make. The gender parity index for this table highlights a
gap varying from .36 to .85.
105Bassey, Western Education and Political Domination in Africa, 92.
Table 3.1 [Gender Parity in Secondary Schools in 13 sub-Saharan
COUNTRIES AND TERRITORIES TOTAL BOYS GIRLS GPI-GIRLS ATTENDANCE/BOYS ATTENDANCE
Guinea 36.8 48.6 23.8 0.49
Cote d'Ivoire 38.0 48.8 28.5 0.58
Benin 47.2 58.6 35.2 0.60
Mali 29.2 36.2 22.4 0.62
Niger 13.7 16.9 10.6 0.36
Senegal 29.6 36.2 23.6 0.65
Chad 46.0 56.0 36.6 0.65
Central African Republic 47.3 56.3 38.4 0.68
Togo 64.3 75.4 51.8 0.69
Sierra Leone 37.7 43.1 31.9 0.74
Guinea- Bissau 48.7 55.7 41.6 0.75
Burundi 35.5 40.0 31.7 0.79
Nigeria 68.6 74.0 63.0 0.85
(Data Based of UNICEF Table. No 2. April
[Accessed, September 2008]
The failure of ministries also has a basis in their
inability to address the challenges many parents believe
in, such as the view that education is a threat to the
purity and decency of their daughters.
Many parents believe that an investment in girls'
education is a waste of time and resources and that an
educated daughter would not be compliant or acquiescent.
The fear of disbanding the "marriage mechanism-a custom of
early betrothal as a means of economic independence and
gaining social prestige"- that Thiam describes overshadows
the evidence that an educated daughter grows into a strong
woman, who is willing to speak her mind, and in many cases
will advocate for her future daughters and end the cycle of
Education ministries and governments remain
unsuccessful at easing the minds of parents who worry about
the sexual safety and security of their children, from male
classmates, teachers and random individuals. The Gambia
experienced this in the case of alleged rape by
firefighters after a nation wide inter-school sports event.
On April 10, 2000, students took to the streets to protest
the disregard with which the ministry of education handled
their claim. Reports claim that 10 students died, many 106
106 Thiam, Speak Black Sisters, 53-54.
more were injured or arrested and a school year disrupted.
In the end, this incident further strengthened the lack of
dialogue and eventually distrust between those who regulate
the school system and those who partake in it for
Some of these challenges are mythic, yet they are
rectifiable. The problem with Africa is that its promise
does not live up to its reality. In most African
countries, the national education ministry controls every
aspect of education. This results in bureaucratic
entanglements that prevent the solution of real issues.
Bassey echoes this point. He argues that "African
educational systems are without exception controlled by the
ministry of education which determines the appointment of
teachers, curriculum, textbooks, teaching materials and
philosophy".lUB The authoritarian nature of the ruling
elites is replicated in schools and "today in Africa,
schools are sites of cultural and social inequities,
disempowerment, sexism, domination and hegemony."* 108 109
The largest failures lie in curricula that are
inadequately tailored to the needs of Africa and are not
gender neutral. These are systems wherein teachers are
10 John Pitman, "Violence in Gambia update", Voice of America.
Published July 2000, [Accessed September 2008].
108 Bassey, Western Education and Political Domination in Africa, 84.
unskilled and do not believe in the potential of female
students. Africa as in many other areas needs instruction
in a way that works to the development of the continent.
Schools and teachers in Africa are dictatorial; they bind
students to a submissive role in the learning process. They
fail at constructing a brand of political and social
understanding that can illuminate and challenge the
creation and replication of repressive relationships,
especially those associated with gender. When teachers
support gender inequality, girls' education is viewed as
insignificant to economic growth.
The purpose of education in Africa appears to be to
maintain the status quo and to teach obedience. I actually
went to a school in the Gambia that awarded students for an
impeccable record of obedience. Teachers are unconscious of
the power they possess; they are trained to sell a
particular form of instruction and they stick with the
program. Therefore, their classrooms take the form of what
Paulo Freire calls "banking" education110. In this method,
the relation between students and their teachers depends on
1. the teacher teaches and the students are taught;
2. the teacher knows everything and the student nothing;
3. the teacher talks and the student listens;
4. the teacher acts and the students have the false
impression of acting through the teacher's agency;
5. the students adapt and adjust to the substance the
6. the teacher is the focus of the learning process and
the students are objects and things in that process.111
This proves to be the negation of conscious learning. In
addition, when sexist values are consciously/unconsciously
carried over into schools, it is not at all impossible to
find that girls have very low expectations for themselves.
I cannot count the number of times that it has been brought
to my attention that my focus on higher education is a
guarantee to perpetual spinsterhood. The myth that African
men are disinterested in or apathetic to the educated
African woman has to be debunked, as it stands in the way
of brilliant African women who forego continuing their
education to satisfy their cultural duty.
The GAMBIA and Girls Education
The Gambia is among the smallest countries in sub-Saharan
Africa. With barely a total land area of about 11,200
square kilometers, its sits nestled to the north, south and
Press, is / o j , 5>4 .
east in the Francophone nation of Senegal. The Atlantic
Ocean is situated to the west of the nation. During the
late 17th century and throughout the 18th, the British and
French scuffled constantly for "political and commercial
supremacy in the regions of the Senegal and Gambia
Rivers"112 113. In 1783, the Treaty of Versailles gave Britain
possession of The Gambia, but the French retained a tiny
enclave at Albreda on the north bank of the river Gambia,
which was relinquished to the United Kingdom in 1857.11J It
is documented that during colonialism approximately "3
million slaves may have been taken from the region during
the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade
operated".114 A military post of Bathurst (now Banjul the
capital) was created in 1816 after the British tried
unsuccessfully to end the trafficking of slave in the
region beginning in 1807.115 116 In the following years, Banjul
was at times under the authority of the British governor
general in Sierra Leone. In 1888, The Gambia became a
The Gambia like many countries on the west coast of
Africa enjoyed early relations with westerners but for the
U'US State Department, "Background Note: The Gambia"
115 Katharina Kane, The Gambia and Senegal, [London: Lonely planet
publications, 2007], 89.
116 US State Department, Background Note: The Gambia.
small country, these encounters did not result in much
development. The nation, overshadowed by Britain's larger
colonies in Africa and Asia, gained independence in 1965
with not much to offer to the world. Luckily, it became
strengthened by the world's interest in cash crops and
tourism. While many of the Gambia's neighbors engaged in
civil unrest, the tiny nation enjoyed relative stability.
Having suffered a failed military coup in 1981, the Gambia
in an effort to seek larger support formed a confederation
with Senegal in 1982 that ended in 198911'. Its cultural and
social experiences mirror that of its French-speaking
neighbor. The country's first president, Sir Dawda Jawara,
maintained power from independence until July 22 1994, when
five army lieutenants overthrew him in a bloodless military
coup d'etat. The leader of the coup, Yahya Jammeh, formed
the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and not
long after returned to civilian life to become the head of
state. He would also transition to democratic civilian
government winning all subsequent elections.
The Gambia is small in land mass and in population
adding up to about 1.6 million people.* 118 More than 63% of
Gambians reside in rural villages (1993 census), with many
young people relocating to the capital in search of
11 Kane, The Gambia and Senegal, 120.
employment and education.119 Short-term figures from the
2003 census highlighted a narrowed gap between the urban
and rural populations, as more areas are declared urban.120
While urban migration, development projects, and
modernization are affording more Gambians contact with
Western habits and values, the traditional emphasis on the
extended family, as well as native forms of dress and
celebration, remain integral parts of everyday life121.
The country still has a long journey ahead concerning
education and gender equality. Henderson and Jeydel
confirms evidence of those disparities with only 13.2% of
the female population in parliament and gaps in secondary
school enrollment and attendance.122 As shown in Table 4.1,
UNICEF and the World Bank highlight that gross secondary
school enrollments in the Gambia, 2000-2006, were 51% for
boys compared to girls whose enrollment levels were at 42%
A slight disparity was evident in attendance levels with
boys at 39% and girls at a mere 34%.
n US State Department, Background note: The Gambia.
122 Sarah L. Henderson and Alana S. Jeydel, Participation and Protest:
Women and Politics in a Global World, [New York: Oxford University
Press, 2007], 27.
Table 4.1 [Disparities in Secondary School Enrollment and
Attendance in the Gambia, 2000-2006].
Secondary Secondary Secondary
Gender School School School
Enrolment attendance Enrolment
2000-06, 2000- Ratio 2000-
Gross 2006,Net 2006, Net
Male 51% 39% 49%
Female 42% 34% 41%
(Data from the WB and UNICEF). Explains the disparities in
secondary education in the Gambia.
Scholars note that girls growing up in rural communities in
the Gambia face a difficult life as little emphasis is
placed on education.123 Their lives are hindered by a
tradition of early marriage.
The country's recent dedication to girls' education
while maintaining the antiquated structure of school
curriculum, has engaged in policies that give teachers,
123 Thomas Nybo, "Mothers clubs playing a crucial role advocating for
girls education in Gambia", [The Gambia; UNICEF Publications, 2006]
www.unicef.org, [Accessed April 2008],1.
mothers and their girls an opportunity for a different life
through education. Crispin Grey-Johnson, the Gambia's
former representative to the United Nations, describes a
new idea for education policy begun in 1996 that sought to
change the country through a reasoned and dependable
education system, training policy and approach.124 The new
plan focused on basic education, an increase in access and
quality, an expansion of secondary admittance and
retention, a reduction of the gender gap, and the
development of scientific and technological abilities.125 126 *
Grey-Johnson cites The Gambia as "one in four countries in
Africa hailed by the World Bank as "on track" in achieving
universal primary education by the target date set by the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGS)".12a The MDGs are eight
developmental goals agreed to by UN member states and
international development agencies to increase and promote
among other things, universal primary education and gender
equality and women's empowerment by 2015.12, The Gambia
regarding girls' education is characterized as a model in
providing access in the formal and informal education
Crispin Grey- Johnson, "The Gambia and Education", [New York: UN
http://www.un.org/Pubs/Chronicle/2003/issue2/0203p4 6.html, [Accessed
12 United Nations, "Millennium Development Goals", [New York: United
Nations Publications, 2000],
http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml, [Accessed November 2008].
sector. Girl-friendly school initiatives such as adequate
toilets and clean water for personal hygiene, discourse
countering traditional norms and teenage pregnancies are
created as a means to garner a more comfortable atmosphere.
Grey-Johnson, highlighting the achievements of the ruling
government, calls attention to the importance of teacher
training and the involvement of non-governmental
institutions in the formation of a sustainable education
Mothers in the Gambia are also taking up the fight to
take advantage of their daughters' opportunity for
education. In the village of Sare Samba, Thomas Nybo writes
about a group of devoted mothers who are determined to
transform the limitations placed on their daughters.128
These women are forming women's clubs whose initiatives
include building schools and door-to-door campaigns to
encourage parents to send their daughters to school. Nybo
cites a 14-year old girl who believes that parents have the
tendency to marry off girls at an early age, but adds that
education changes that fact, allowing for a better chance
to know one's rights and for self- awareness. These women
are revolutionary as they demonstrate in their own way the
importance of an educated female population.
128Nybo, "Mothers clubs playing a crucial role advocating for girls
education in Gambia", 2.
Constraints in the Gambian education system include
the lack of an adequate number of teachers who are Gambian-
born. The dependence on foreign teachers from Ghana,
Nigeria and Sierra Leone is a troubling indication of the
country's lack of belief in its ability for greatness. In
over a decade of instruction, I had one teacher with whom I
identified with culturally; I was in the third grade then,
and he left before the end of the school year. The
impressions he imparted on me are lifelong, and I aspire to
the confidence and consciousness with which he conducted
his classes. The Gambia is a very community-oriented
society; the presence of Gambian teachers allows for a
certain responsibility and respect between students,
teachers and parents that is absent with foreign teachers.
The importance of community mentioned previously yet again
manifests itself. The high value that is placed on the
qualifications of foreign teachers has to be required of
teachers that are trained in the Gambia.
The Gambia despite its small size addresses the
cultural and economic challenges that it faces. The country
understands the need for a stronger emphasis on enrollment,
retention, safety and qualified teachers who can critically
challenge students. Moreover, while the country has been at
times slow to change, the Gambia has made more progress in
girls' education than many African countries.
In conclusion, I have attempted to present
challenges I believe stifle the intellectual growth of
African girls and women: history, patriarchy, policy and
academic factors. The chapter presented a case study of
education in the Gambia and its policy toward equality. My
goal is to identify these challenges as a starting point
for moving toward an exploration of the progress that is
happening in sub-Saharan Africa.
CHAPTER 4: MOVING TOWARD EQUALITY
WOMEN'S FEDERATION of WORLD PEACE INTERNATIONAL; AND
FORUM of AFRICAN WOMEN EDUCATIONALISTS.
This Chapter follows with explorations of two NGOs
that work to alleviate the marginalization of women in sub-
Saharan Africa through education: the Women's Federation of
World Peace International (WFWPI) and the Forum of African
Women Educationalists (FAWE). The goal of this chapter is
to highlight the importance of collaboration between NGOs
and local governments to fight disparities in education.
James Buturo suggests that NGOs have swiftly expanded
their international reputation.129 Buturo asserts that NGOs
are consulted on matters of policymaking, planning and
implementation at the local, national and international
levels of government. The reliance on their knowledge and
expertise is a consequence of the new views they offer in
such areas as human development and the defense of human
and equal rights.130 Bloch et al argue that NGOs are the
most productive in providing emancipatory education for
women131. While NGOs are vital in educating women, they also
12^ James Buturo, "NGOs, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Africa,
Part 1", Published for Voices of Africa, , WWW. UN.org/Pubs,
[Accessed September 2008].
1J1 Bloch, Beoku-Betts, and Tabachnick, Women and Education in Sub-
Saharan Africa, 42-43.
have limitations. Stromquist argues that NGOs fail to
create women's coalitions across social classes132.
Stromquist continues that a second limitation is that they
tend to focus on adult women and leave intact the formal
school system, which continues to instill conformist gender
identities in a large group of individuals that
significantly exceeds those enrolled in non-formal
programs.133 The two NGO's presented in this chapter commit
to addressing these limitations.
Women's Federation of World Peace International (WFWPI)
In 2007, I had a chance encounter with a member of
the Women's Federation of World Peace International
(WFWPI), starting a dialogue over girls' education and
inequality in sub-Saharan Africa. WFWPI was launched in
1992 by Dr.Hak-Ja Han Moon around the idea that "humanity
is a family subsisting in one home; the earth while
stressing the importance of women in creating a culture of
i3'Nelly Stromquist, "Agents in Women's Education: Some Trends in the
African Context", in Women and Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Power,
Opportunities and Constraints, ed. Marianne Bloch, Josephine Beoku-
Betts and B. Robert Tabachnick, [Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publisher,
133 Ibid, 43.
peace".134 136 In the mid-1990s, the organization embarked on a
mission to educate anil train women and their children
around the world in "itiicro-credit, nutrition, basic medical
care, AIDS prevention education and foster parent
WFWPI firmly asserts its belief that educating
children and empowering women are the best approaches to
eradicate poverty. This belief is manifest in the
establishment of an education project falling in line with
the third and forth objectives of the United Nations
Millennium Development Goals. The quest for universal
education, gender equality and women's empowerment led to
what is now the Schools of Africa Project.
Created in 2006, the Schools of Africa Project is
an "effort to expand Â£nd support education more efficiently
in Africa". 13 This includes seven schools, four of them in
sub-Saharan Africa. Tjieir schools in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya
and Guinea Bissau havfe grown from 184 students to 1626
students since their inception, a growth of more than
800%.13, Their mission is to support quality, inexpensive
and ethical education to primary, middle and high school
students preparing them to be active participants and
servant leaders in the development of their countries.
WFWPI Publications, 2007]
136 Ibid, 3.
Alexa Fish Ward, Schools of Africa Program Booklet, [Connecticut:
The purpose of the School of Africa Project includes
providing educational opportunities through tuition
reduction and scholarships, vocational skills, and the
inclusion of community leaders and citizens in training
programs. The schools are inclusive stressing the
importance of men's involvement in women's issues.
At the same time, the organization notes that focusing
solely on girls' education could have negative
consequences on boys that might be more difficult to
reverse. Alexa Fish Ward, the President of Women's
Federation of World Peace (USA), emphasizes that the
"wonderful thing about involvement in serving others is
the amount of people's lives that are touched in the
The Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE)
The Forum of African Women Educationalists (FAWE) is
an African NGO established by Fay Chung in 1992 to promote
girls' education and women's literacy in sub-Saharan
Africa. This effort is in concert with the notion of
universal education. FAWE as a parent organization
comprises of thirty-five chapters operating mainly as self-
governing bodies that are "registered as national NGOS
across sub-Saharan Africa".139 This includes a national
chapter in the Gambia, FAWEGAM. FAWE aims at
mainstreaming gender concerns into
national education programs; convincing society,
government, donors and NGO's of the need to
invest more resources in girls7 education,
supporting women administrators, researchers and
teachers so that they in turn can impact
positively on female education and integrating
gender studies into tertiary research,
curriculum and policy decisions.140
The major role of FAWE and FAWEGAM is to influence
education policy in favor of gender equality working
closely with policy makers at all levels to ensure that
government policies address gender constraints in education
and promote equality in access and retention. In the Gambia
FAWEGAM collaborates with the education ministry as well as
other non-profit organizations advocating equality in
education. Their membership includes female ministers,
deputy ministers of education, university heads, prominent
African educationalists, male ministers, gender activists,
researcher, teachers and students. FAWE understands that
while there have been laudable progress in girls'
139 Forum of African Women Educationalist, www.FAWE.org, [Accessed,
140 Marianne Bloch and Frances Vavrus, "Gender in Educational Research,
Policy, and Practice in Sub-Saharan Africa: Theoretical and Empirical
Problems and Prospects" in Women and Education in Sub-Saharan Africa:
Power, Opportunity and Constraints, ed. Marianne Bloch, Josephine
Beoku-Betts and B. Robert Tabachnick, [Boulder: Lynne Rienner
Publishers, 1998], 41.
education, national education policies are not widely
WFWPI and FAWE: Toward Parity
In the effort to change the marginalization of women
in the region, WFWPI and FAWE understand and agree on the
socio-cultural, economic and political factors that
obstruct the education of girls in sub-Saharan Africa. They
list old traditions, myths, ignorance, poverty, lack of
access to power and education, early marriages, teenage
pregnancies and disease among their biggest concerns.
While easing those concerns is their primary agenda,
both organizations work toward equality in girls' education
utilizing different approaches. WFWPI focuses on a bottom-
up perspective, centering their work in local communities
while FAWE uses a top-down perspective that begins with
The chairwoman of the Colorado chapter of WFWP (USA),
speaking on behalf of WFWPI, reiterated the organization's
objective to empower women while nurturing women's natural
_l.2lJ.i_.. j_ _ _ l- _.i_.i___. . _. 1 1 rrl__ r.i t> -r X. __ ______
adheres to the principles and norms of African communities
and culture. WFWPI begins by accepting that within an
African context, gender is dictated by an equal but
different doctrine that highlights clearly the
dissimilarities in the roles of men and women. The
organization declares that as outsiders their comprehension
of gender constructed from a western perspective has a
limited effect on how they progress in Africa. Their
aspiration is that their idea of gender does not hinder the
traditional aspect of African life but instead enhances it.
Their approaches to Africa are successful because of
the following measures: accountability, parental
involvement, financial subsidies, and continuity in
To begin, the WFWPI's understanding of the devaluation
of women's literacy in sub-Saharan Africa is crucial in how
they approach and solve the problem of accountability. They
address responsibility from a point of view that places
emphasis on the economic value of schooling. The
organization contextualizes education as a source of wealth
for women and their families. WFWPI charges students a
small fee to institutionalize the idea of monetary value in
education. Through paying tuition, parents become more
vested in education of their daughters. In cases where
parents cannot afford these fees, WFWPI provides a subsidy
to the schools.
The organization moves forward by advocating
parental involvement especially that of mothers. Their
representative highlights research showing that maternal
participation heightens the admittance and retention of
girls in schools, lowering the risk of early marriages and
pregnancies. Their Colorado representative further posits
that educated mothers result in educated daughters. She
adds that women must be educated to break the limiting
patterns that hinder their intellectual, socio-economic and
In WFWPI's view, poverty stands alongside many
other challenges as the biggest factor that prevents girls'
education. The organization finds that the lack of monetary
resources is a barrier to the retention of girls in junior
and senior secondary school. WFFPI provides scholarship and
subsidies to students to finance their education. Students
in their technical and vocational schools graduate with the
skills to market their products and earn money for
themselves and their families. The WFWPI realizes the
significance of education as a means of utilizing already
available resources and achieving self-sufficiency.
WFWPI's Schools of Africa Project is enhanced by
their advocacy of continuity in education. The organization
provides a higher quality in education from kindergarten to
high school. They are working toward higher education for
graduates and already present a "fifty percent" employment
rate after graduation. 11,1 This focus on continuity
guarantees students the opportunity to a better future. 141
141 Ward, Schools of Africa Project, 12
FAWE and FAWEGAM have four major advocacy areas.
These include working with policy makers, promoting
retention, creating mothers clubs and approaching
traditional and cultural obstacles head on. The head of
FAWEGAM notes the liaisons the organization has with local
governments. In the Gambia, the organization works with the
education ministry to evaluate and change existing policies
that are ineffective.
This effort has led to a stable enrollment and
attendance levels and reestablished focus on the critical
issue of retention. Retention is among the four areas in
which effort is centered. FAWEGAM's representative notes
that some parents in the Gambia have not allowed their
daughters to transition to high school, instead forcing
them into marriages. FAWEGAM has worked together with the
ministry of education to design strategies and incentives
to address these societal norms and values.
While much of their advocacy is with policymakers, FAWE
and FAWEGAM are involving mothers in the education process.
In the Gambia, they are creating mother's clubs in which
mothers have access to loans for the additional needs of
their children. The involvement of women in these
approaches has been crucial to creating awareness on the
importance of educating their daughters. The organization
has implemented programs where girls in rural areas have
the opportunity to mirror working mothers at their jobs in
government or private enterprise. This allows girls to
understand that careers founded on education do not rule
out marriage and motherhood. The investment that mothers
are now making for their girls has also raised a new
interest in the girls themselves about their potential.
FAWE and FAWEGAM's hardest task is approaching
culture and tradition head on. FAWEGAM, for example,
recognizes that some of the barriers to girls' education
are traditional and cultural in nature. They seek the views
of religious and traditional leaders noting that inclusion
is vital, and all stakeholders are needed from the initial
stage to ensure ownership and acceptance of the programs.
Like many NGOs working in Africa, the WFWPI and FAWE
encounter obstacles ranging from the availability of funds,
supplies, and community support. Their hope for the
equality in education in sub-Saharan Africa is to have the
ability to expand all over the sub-continent. This
expansion affords the resources to educate more girls at a
younger age while providing new changes that could lead to
more access to public office and the ratification of
policies that will change the circumstances of women in
Africa. The importance of their programs defies the low
expectations of their critic.
WFWPI and FAWE stand as pinnacles of women's
initiatives to elevate the lives of other women. The
organizations' hope for the African girl in the twenty-
first century is that she fulfills her basic developmental
needs and sustains the economic stability of her family,
and continent. This hope continues that in the process of
development, the African girl/woman realize her true self-
These two organizations and their many chapters are
examples of organizations whose collaborative initiatives
with policy makers, community leaders, and men and women
serves the greater good without obstructing negatively the
socio-cultural composition of traditional societies.
In this chapter, I moved from examining what is wrong in
Africa and its implications for the African girl to an
examination of two organizations whose work focuses on the
development of the girl child. I highlighted the factors
that these two organizations claim limit girls' education
in sub-Saharan Africa. I discussed the different approaches
that these two NGOs utilize to advocate for equality in
education. The WFWPI focuses on working directly with local
communities. They build from a bottom- up perspective while
FAWE works on a more policy-oriented agenda. Despite these
differences in strategy, the ultimate goal of these two
organizations is that girls have an opportunity to claim
their own development.
Chapter 5: ACHIEVING PARITY
Education is a crucial and significant resource
that guides many aspects of economic, political and socio-
-3 *- U ^ 1 T___. ^ ^ 4- , , ^ 1 ^
for girls in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 26 million girls
are not enrolled or attending schools in Africa.142 As
pointed out in chapter 1, the United Nations adopts the
position that this inequality is a violation of girls and
women's rights to live a productive life. Education offers
girls a chance for self-determination.
In chapter 1, I lay out the goal of this thesis. I
wanted to find out the factors that prevent girls' access
to education, the strategies of NGOs that advocate for
girls' education and the extent to which these strategies
transform the obstacles that block education in sub-Saharan
Chapter 2 concluded that Africa's quandaries are
consequences of its history and culture, poverty, HIV/AIDS
and war. It assessed the role of slavery and colonialism,
effects of war and AIDS showing that all these factors are
directly interconnected. Unless they are thoroughly
addressed, little change will happen for Africa.
142United Nations. "Making the Right to Education a reality".
The third chapter noted that antiquated education
systems and ineffective education policies and ministries
compromise girls' education. Its focus was on the policy of
education ministries and governments in the creation of a
singular education philosophy. This chapter included a
case study of the Gambia and its strategies for change. It
highlighted that the Gambia is among very few countries in
sub-Saharan Africa making some progresses toward equality
The fourth chapter examined the work of two NGOs, the
Women's Federation of World Peace International and the
r j 7~'i_l TTi rA T 7 H l/VPiTi P TT .5 r, i_7 L 7 O m <5 t 7 ,5 t 5 s i' Pr P.561 f'V 'j W m 7 P1
sharing the belief that girls' education faces economic,
political, and socio-cultural obstacles, utilize different
approaches to girls' education. In the end, these
approaches have a similar aim in achieving gender parity in
education in sub-Saharan Africa. Chapter 4 highlighted that
NGOs play an important role in providing education.
These four chapters, while sadly revealing Africa to
be a shackled continent bound by socio-cultural, economic
and political factors, also demonstrate the progress that
is happening in sub-Saharan Africa through the work of
The following section will outline my recommendations
that highlight goals and strategies to advance girls'
education in Africa. These recommendations follow the model
presented at the Jomtien World Conference on Education for
All (WCEFA) in 1991. These goals address the critique of
education presented in Chapter 3. The strategies to achieve
these goals are drawn from approaches utilized by WFWPI and
FAWE, a case study of the Gambia and from my own
experiences as an African woman. These recommendations,
goals and strategies do not directly address the underlying
causes of underdevelopment in Africa, which were examined
in Chapter 2. Instead, they provide a starting point for
expanding educational opportunities for girls and women. A
substantial increase in the number of girls gaining access
to a high quality education will in turn create a critical
mass of educated women who will be able to tackle the
underlying causes of underdevelopment in Africa.
Goals and Strategies to Reform Girls' Education in Africa
Through the analysis on education systems presented in
Chapter 3 of this thesis, it became evident that the gender
inequalities present in S.S.A education can be rectified
and reduced through
1. a renewed interest in equal
part of African countries,
2. a transformation of current
and education system and
education on the
3. societal involvement especially that of
In addressing the first goal, African countries have to
refocus their efforts on providing universal access to
primary and secondary education. They must address the
educational needs of their communities. The WCEFA advises
that countries should identify education programs that meet
the needs of their population.43 Gender equality in
education in S.S.A begins when states' recognize the urgent
need for creating and increasing their national abilities
for efficient administration and research oriented toward
provisions of basic education for all.
The WCEFA notes that addressing basic education needs
starts with an investment in "early childhood education;
relevant, quality primary schooling or equivalent out-of-
school education for children; and literacy, basic
knowledge and life skills training for youth and adults".144
African governments have to expand requirements of basic
education and training in other vital skills required by
youth and adults, with program effectiveness assessed in
terms of behavioral transformations and impacts on
14J World Conference on Education for All, "The World Declaration on
Universal Education For All: Meeting Basic Needs", [Jomtien: UNESCO
nce_jomtien.shtml, [Accessed November 2008].
productivity.145 The effectiveness of basic education
systems not only implies a low-cost education, but also the
most effective use of all resources: human, managerial, and
financial to produce the preferred levels of access,
retention and achievement.
Basic education in Africa should simply correspond to
actual needs, interests, and problems of the participants
in the learning process".140 For example, the UNESCO
highlights that the significance of curricula is enhanced
by relating "literacy and numeracy skills and scientific
concepts with learners' concerns and earlier experiences,
for example, nutrition, health, and work".14' While needs
vary within and among African countries, curriculum should
JJ0 S 01iS 2. "u 3. V0 'r i~-. lOCci COIVCiX 1l XOTi
Second, education ministries should transform and
redesign curriculum that reflects a cultural relevance to
the life experiences of female students. Ministries in
concert with different sectors within governments should
collaborate to design curricula and implement programs that
prepare girls for leadership positions in government,
business, science and technology. In Chapter 3 Bassey
argued that education in S.S.A is based on a colonial
model. He highlights the dictatorial framework in which
African classrooms are instructed.143
Curriculum in S.S.A has to transformative and includes
changing cultural attitudes toward girls and women, and to
alleviating socio-cultural, and economic factors such as
poverty, HIV/AIDS and war. Learning should not resemble the
"banking" education model critiqued by Freire in chapter 3,
but should consist of a brand of political and social
understanding that enlightens and challenges the creation
and replication of repressive relationships especially
those associated with gender.149 In other words, education
ministries should adopt models that are inclusive and
The final goal through which gender equality in
Li La Li Li d I___L Li X i
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Li I i i_ Li V Li Li
. o on
-c. t, v
especially women and girls. Women and girls as learners
make up a fundamental human resource that needs to be
mobilized. Women have been characterized as one of Africa's
untapped growth assets, providing most of the continents'
labor yet their effectiveness is obstructed by inequity.150
The crucial role of women's involvement and participation
in education needs to be explicitly explained so that both
women and men realize the "benefits of basic education
activities far exceed the costs they incur, such as 14
148 Bassey, Western Education and Political Do2Tiination in Africa, 84.
14 Freire P<=>. la.-tocr' .>? .-jpnre.cse.-J. B4 .
lL0 Gelb, "Can Africa claim the 21Â£t century?", 10-13.
earnings foregone and reduced time available for community
and household activities and for leisure".151 These barriers
to participation can be reduced using incentives and the
formation of programs that are adapted to the local
situation and seen by the girls, their families and
communities to be beneficial to the society as a whole.
The three goals highlighted above can be achieved
through the strategies applied by WFWPI and FAWE and the
Gambia government. They require efforts that combine
WFWPI's bottom up approach with FAWE's top-down method.
Beginning with governments, education ministries
should collaborate with NGOs to create the best policies.
In the Gambia, for example, the education ministry revamped
its policy for universal education working with
organizations such as FAWE to teach girls alternative ideas
about education. The creation of mentoring programs in
rural areas where girls shadow professional women to learn
about broader options has been very successful. The
ministry's involvement with NGOs sought to create a more
L d -L l i d 1
cuuo cr i
specifically to the needs of female students in the areas
of access, retention, quality and safety. The ministry's
policy efforts in concert with FAWE work at countering
traditional norms that perpetuate the gender gap in the
country. Through the process of working with the private
sector, education ministries can identify problem areas in
education. In the Gambia, FAWE noted that their alliance
with the government led to the identification of the issue
of retention, which they are now addressing.
These strategies also include creating networks of
women and men from different aspects of African life and
culture to share, develop and implement progressive ideas
about education and equality. For instance, WFWPI works
directly in local communities advocating parental
involvement. Their approaches offer scholarships to girls
for secondary school. FAWE begins by consulting with a
110 L WO L X O 1 J_ (rluci X t: It LX I i X y L t5 X o cl I K.I
to mainstream gender into government policies and they
i n c: i
' l h
different groups into a broader network offers a voice and
power to girls and their parents that are not currently
available to them. Whereas, girls and women have been
treated as objects of educational policy, a network of
diverse perspectives allows girls to plan goals for their
own future, trust their own instincts and to respect their
own knowledge as a foundation for solving issues of gender
inequality, including participation in decisions about
educational development.152 Women and girls' in S.S.A have
li2 B. Robert Tabachnick and Josephine Beoku-Betts, "Using the past to
fashion an expanding future" in Women and Education in Sub-Saharan
Africa: Power, Opportunities and Constraints, ed. Marianne Bloch,
Josephine Beoku-Betts and B. Robert Tabachnick, [Boulder: Lynne Rienner
to reclaim their voices to affect the change that they
In light of the many economic, political and social
quandaries that limit girls' education in sub-Saharan
Africa, some progress has been made in girls' education,
yet this development cannot stall where it stands. The
ideas and recommendations outlined above could
considerably alter the inequities that girls face in
education. The advocacy of NGOs like FAWE and WFWPI
likewise are necessary in decreasing gender inequalities
in education but the ultimate solution of this problem
depends on Africans taking accountability for their
actions and reclaiming their lives. Ali Mazrui suggests
that Africa's problems are consequences of pacts made with
the West that did not maintain African value systems.153
A successful education system in S.S.A begins with
Africa's acceptance that although it cannot move to the
past, it must own its history, learn from it and move
toward a better future. Its systems of pedagogy both
formal and informal require a contextualization that looks
to the best of the continent as a whole. As a student in
Ali Mazrui, The Africans, [
Africa, I always aspired to an American education but I
also maintained the belief that the changes I want for
Africa can only be realized with a commitment to working
for Africa. In 2007, I had the unique opportunity to speak
at an event for the Honorable Raila Odinga of Kenya at
which time; I highlighted the importance of sustainability
and servant leadership as a means of solving some of the
problems mentioned in chapter 2. Education in Africa
should reflect the importance of Africa to the world;
politically and economically but most of all it should
demonstrate that the change required in Africa depends on
the actions of Africans. Thousands of African scholars and
professionals have left the continent in search of better
opportunities.154 The perceptions that African life is
inferior to Western life and education should be
demystified. African education systems should be in accord
with African values of communalism and equality based on
celebrating differences. The idea that I am because we are
has to be re-integrated so that those currently engaged in
the system can value what is good and important about
Throughout this thesis, I tried to highlight the
evidence that illustrated that education is necessary for
African development. The change needed begins when a
broader cross-section of citizens within African nations
are given the voice to take part in the restructuring of
the education system. The average African has to be given
the power and ownership of the schools that they and their
families attend. Local communities must have possession of
their schools and should decide on the best teachers, the
maintenance of the schools, and the creation and
replication of ideologies that can sustain learning
methods that directly affect the development of the
The schools themselves must be devoid of repressive
ideas mentioned in chapter 3. They should be environments
that allow critical thinking providing outlets for
students' voices, thoughts and ideas to be heard. In my
middle school, students engaged in debates that challenged
their perceptions on many issues including girls'
education. And while there was disagreement, the truth is
that the opportunity to step into and examine other
realities was afforded. Schools in general should be less
authoritarian in an effort to build self-esteem and
creativity of students especially girls.
These ideas are not radical; they do not move to one
single position but rather they require moving to the
center and a decolonization of the African mindset.
It is practical and sensible to conceive that Africa
has the faculty and ability to cultivate its intellectual
capital by educating girls as a means of sustaining itself
and integrating into an ever growing and highly
competitive global market.
It is an effort that appears difficult to achieve but
with the aid of the international community, and most
importantly local government, parents, teachers and
students, Africa might just reclaim the 21Et century as its
This thesis has implications for changing the role of the
African girl at the local, national and international
levels. It suggests that the marginalization of women has
not always been as it is and highlights the crucial
importance of girls' education toward African
sustainability. The thesis shows that for equality and
growth to prevail in Africa, both females and males are
needed to debunk and demystify the challenges that surround
Areas of Further Research
The manifestations of girls' education as a means of
economic, political and socio-cultural development and
sustainability reveal the viability of girls' education in
Africa. It also reveals the potential of education in
solving some daunting issues such as cultural degradation,
poverty, civil unrest, corruption and disease.
Yet girls' education for Africa transcends the
stereotypical characterization of reading and writing, and
calls for the creation of ideas that transform socio-
political dynamics. Girls' education is poised to play an
even greater in changing the lives of Africans.
This thesis leaves room for many areas of further
research including the deconstruction of education
constructed from an African perspective, and an examination
of the role of men and women in African societies. Areas of
further research also include the examination of the role
of women in the democratic process, the role of
globalization and its effects on African women and the
responsibility of states in solving the problems of
Africans discussed in this thesis.
Interview Script Girls Education in Africa
1. What is your name?
2. What is you sex?
3. What is your function within the organization?
4 What is your organizations mission?
5. Does your organization provide a definition of gender
in the Africa context?
a. Does the western construction of gender have an
impact in the conception of gender equality in
6. Is there a gender gap in education in Africa? YES NO
a. If YES, to what do you attribute the cause this
7. How extreme does your organization understand the
gender gap in education to be in Africa?
8. What does your organization perceive would effect a
change in attitude toward girl's education and women's
9. Can you list some factors that your organization
thinks contribute to gender inequality?
10. What factors hinder the (primary and secondary)
education of girls in sub-Saharan Africa?
a. Can you explain those factors in detail?
11. What approaches does your organization utilize in
your girl education programs?
a. Have those approaches been successful*or
b. On what level have they been successful or
12. How does your organization as contributors to the
education of girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa
classify the issues that decrease the opportunities
that girls7 education offers?
13. In what manner does your organization utilize and
recognize the viewpoints of women and men, religious
leaders and traditional leaders in regard to gender
issues and education? 14 15 16
14. What obstacles are you faced with in regard to
implementing girls education programs?
15. How are the obstacles you listed alleviated?
16. What lessons do you think can be gained from your
strategies to increase the percentage of girls that
are enrolled and retained from kindergarten to high
What are the implications of gender equality in
education for the future economic, political and
socio-cultural development of Africa?
18. How does your organization counter those who
suggest that female literacy has very little impact on
the power structures that have limited women's ability
for economic, political and intellectual growth for
19. How does your organization address critics who
claim that the advocacy for female education as a
significant strategy for development dis-empowers Sub-
Saharan African communities?
20. What are your organizations future goals in
regard to education for all in Africa?
21. What does your organization hope for the girls
and women of Africa in the 21Et Century?
Thank you for your time and response
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