In Rwanda, culture plays an important role when it comes to education, as girls are often raised to be submissive at home and taught to not speak up like boys do.
Girls are “supposed to” focus on their household first and foremost and put education second. Justine Uvuza, a former advocate for women’s rights, reported a housewife’s words about gender roles: “Her husband expected her to make sure that his shoes were polished, the water was put in the bathroom for him, his clothes were ironed.”
Girls might need to break some barriers when choosing a career. Rwanda’s culture is male-oriented, so girls who choose a career path that is more common among men may experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
Girls Hygiene and School Attendance
Having a period while attending school is a normal part of western girls’ lives, but this experience might give Rwandan students a more uncomfortable outcome. A restroom with running water is still considered a luxury in some rural areas, which makes it difficult for girls to clean themselves while in school.
Staggering statistics are part of the facts about girls’ education in Rwanda: 10 percent of girls between 10-14 years old have access to menstrual pads in Rwanda. Male teachers also need to be more aware of their needs, as girls are not allowed to leave classrooms to use the restroom.
One student stated: “When I was on my period I would leave school and stay at home, sometimes for up to a week. I didn’t feel clean and didn’t want to use the bad toilets that we shared with boys. Because I was missing one week of school every month, I found it hard to keep up with my studies.”
Unwanted Pregnancy and School Dropouts
In 2016, 17,000 teens got pregnant in Rwanda. Girls don’t get the proper sexual education information from their parents and are often forced to drop out of school to take care of their children.
Puberty is still an uncomfortable subject for some parents, as one mother relates: “I have two sons and a daughter who are in secondary school. They often ask tough questions and I feel ashamed, or fail to answer. For example, one day my daughter asked me what follows after a girl develops breasts.”
If there were more straightforward parent-child conversation, many teenage pregnancies could be prevented from happening and help keep Rwanda’s teens on a stable academic path.
Farming Activities and Education Access
Most families in Rwanda plant what they consume; however, they often lack resources such as potable water, and some women in Africa even have to walk for six miles every day to get it. The lack of clean water causes parasite-inflicted diseases, which often keeps children from primary education.
Children are oftentimes unable to attend schools because they have to provide housework help for their families. In fact, some students have to walk three miles every day before school so as to take potable water to their families.
The Good News
There are still student success stories despite the challenges they face. The Akilah Institute for women gives girls a positive platform to voice their opinions. The group created a female debate team — the first in the country — as a way to become more confident about their role in a male-dominated society.
The team also discussed the topic of “Western feminism,” a concept still fairly new in Rwanda, in the process of taking the debate trophy home. In addition to such success, UNICEF started a program called Child Friendly Schools in 2001 which provides schools with improved infrastructure to deal with girls’ hygiene concerns.
One school located in the Bugesera district has now separated restrooms, provides sanitary towels for girls and has water and soap available for personal hygiene and clothes washing. The dropout numbers decreased after these ‘simple’ measures, and girls now feel less embarrassed about their periods while attending school.
Girls’ Education in Rwanda
The Young Women’s Christian Association educates youth about preventing teen pregnancies. The GrowupSmart program teaches teens how to understand body changes during puberty. The program has taught more than a 1,000 girls about reproductive health, and it has also reached out to parents, turning parent-child sex discussions a common practice.
Measures like these have prevented many school dropouts. World Vision, the Christian organization, has also helped more than 340,000 people with sanitation and clean water in only five years. They also teach the people in rural areas how to dig wells.
These problems related to girls’ education in Rwanda have solutions — the help of partnerships between the government, relief agencies and nonprofit organizations. A pessimistic scenario can be used as a driver to action, and such motivation paired with humanitarian aid can produce doable results.
– Nijessia Cerqueira