Despite many adult assumptions, teenage girls are not just thinking about getting married & having babies. Just like boys, they too have dreams, aspirations, and life goals. When recently speaking to groups of primary school girls, they shared with us that they wanted to be pilots, doctors, teachers and ministers. Yet all too often, reality kicks in and many of these girls end up dropping out of school and settle on becoming housewives who balance casual farm work with taking care of their children and husbands. This ‘settling’ is not their fault – as a society, we do not do enough to help even the best and brightest girls persevere when life’s hurdles threaten to derail their aspirations.
Over the past 6 months, we have conducted a collection of qualitative and quantitative studies aimed at understanding better what our youth audience aspire to do with their lives. What do they consider as success? What type of education and skills do they think they need to be successful?
When we look at the results we see that, despite what we may hear, the exact same proportion of girls as boys want to gain a college degree. It’s not in fact true that girls are less ambitious than boys.
Yet, when we look at how many girls actually go on to achieve this, in the age group of 20-24 year olds, only 30% of girls say they’ve completed secondary school and gained some advanced education compared with 38% of boys in the same age group. If we further look into urban and rural youth separately, the gap between boys and girls grows even wider.
So, what happens to girls? Why are they dropping out of school at an ever-increasing rate? One of the main reasons for drop-out is early pregnancy but this doesn’t give us the full picture.
This is what we’ve learned from our research with both girls & boys:
Youth believe that when it comes to girls’ education, the society is split into two views: modern and traditional. Those with a modern view support girl education; they believe that educating girls is crucial for the development of the community. Those with the traditional view believe that educating girls is a waste of time and money as girls will just get pregnant or married early and abandon school – so, why bother? As might be expected, the traditional view is most prevalent in rural areas.
The truth is, girls face a number of challenges throughout their schooling journey that jeopardize their future goals; when a girl resides in a community with a predominantly traditional view all challenges are amplified – as nobody believes in a girl’s success, nobody is there to support them through the hurdles. Domestic chores, long distances to schools, early marriages forced on them, lack of support from their teachers and parents, mistreatment/mocking from their peers and adults and not to forget menstrual constraints are some of the many challenges that girls face. Each failure of a girl to overcome a challenge on her own is seen as a confirmation for the traditional view that girls cannot succeed in education.
One might say, “Yeah, but boys also have to go through most of these challenges and yet they are able to succeed!” But this is because boys are supported by a community that acknowledges and endorses the value of the boy education. It’s just not the same deal for girls.
In our survey, 16% of girls say they have been abused emotionally or physically; more than twice that say they don’t feel completely safe when they are in school, at home or in transit between the two. Add to this the inevitable fatigue and hunger and it is not surprising that girls break down and accept a much needed free bodaboda ride or 2000Tshs ($1) to buy sanitary pads or new clothers in exchange for sex.
With all these challenges and very little support, girls lose confidence in their ability to succeed. According to our annual survey, barely half of girls feel confident that they can go through the entire schooling journey without dropping out, and those who are confident are mostly residing in communities/families with a modern view on girls’ education.
Shujaaz is working with DfID funded project EQUIP to encourage girls that their journey can be different by presenting them with much needed real life role-models (women who have overcome many of the above challenges to achieve success) and with authentic stories and characters that represent their realities, letting girls know they’re not on their own.
To read a summary of our research insights into barriers to girl’s education in Tanzania, click here.
Don’t miss our next blog on girl’s education which will look at youth’s view on the key stakeholders in supporting them.
By Winnie Nyato: Research Coordinator, Shujaaz Tanzania