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In 2012, the female completion rate for primary education in Guinea was only 61.5 percent. In some rural areas, this number was as low as 34 percent. Furthermore, the secondary school participation rate was around 40 percent for male students, compared to less than 26 percent for their female peers.

UNICEF, USAID, and other humanitarian organizations have introduced grassroots programs promoting girls’ education in Guinea. Programs include COMEF, which encourages mothers to become advocates for their daughters’ schooling. UNICEF championed the Accelerated Girls Education Initiative, which sought to increase enrollment rates but also the quality of girls’ education in Guinea. Many of these initiatives have made great strides with gender equity since Guinea is second in the region only to Ghana in terms of gender equity in the schooling system. Yet, large disparities still exist, and many young girls face hurdles in the effort to obtain an education.

Barriers to girls’ education

Perhaps the largest barrier to girls’ education in Guinea is the deep-rooted sense of tradition and culture. In the type of cultured place as Guniea is, women are often viewed as solely mothers and housemakers. Such values often outweigh the perceived benefits for girls’ educational attainment, particularly in rural regions. It is a common belief that if a girl is educated, she will leave the home and lose her morals, making marriage and reproduction more difficult. Teen marriage in Guinea is very common- between 2008 and 2012, nearly 36 percent of teen girls were married. Thus, many girls drop out of school in favor of household chores that include watching younger siblings, cooking, marriage, and childbearing.

These traditional views create a dangerous cycle of illiteracy. Illiterate mothers are less likely to become advocates of their own daughter’s schooling. Programs have been established that encourage mothers to learn more about the importance of their daughter’s schooling and help them to become champions of girls’ education in Guinea. Through this participation and self-growth, mothers can become better role models for other mothers and their daughters.

Boys’ education is viewed more favorably by local communities, often being described as a “better investment.” This deep, systemic gender bias is very difficult to overcome. Parents that face limited resources and may only send one child to school will undoubtedly choose a son. Not only is boys’ education prioritized, but boys also face fewer challenges at school, such as exploitation, violence, and sexual assault.

Problems in schools

Female students in Guinea are often subject to sexual assault, abuse, and exploitation. Instances of teachers demanding sexual favors in return for passing marks, even if previously merited by student’s academic work, are way too common. Often there are no repercussions for the guilty teacher save a slap on the wrist. To ensure that girls have a safe learning environment, there must be codes of conduct for all teachers and strict ramifications for such behaviors, including loss of job and inability to be hired at any other institution.

Girls also face a risk to security due to lack of proper sanitation facilities. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, an estimated 10 percent of school-aged girls in Africa skip school during women’s period or drop out due to lack of adequate facilities. With a slight improvement in sanitation in Guinean schools from 1997 to 2002, enrollment rates for girls increased 17 percent. Many schools still lack proper bathrooms with many lacking separate toilets for boys and girls and others missing complete privacy measures including cracked windows and broken doors.

There is a strong correlation between the number of female students in schools and the number of female teachers at that school. In 2017, less than half of the primary school teachers and only 30 percent of secondary teachers were female. Having a female teacher not only makes young girls feel safe in the classroom but also gives them a positive role model, making them empowered and motivated to finish their own schooling.

Effects of education

Education is a powerful weapon and shield for young girls. It protects them against child labor, increases participation in the workforce, increases earning capacity, decreases early marriage, and reduces infant and child mortality while also having positive effects on child nutrition. Educated women are more likely to understand their rights and how to exercise them socially, politically and economically. Finally, girls’ education can create a positive cycle meaning that educated mothers are more likely to enroll their own daughters in school and promote higher levels of educational attainment.

While Guinea has made significant progress in terms of girls’ educational availability, improvement is still needed. Support from government officials, religious leaders, and local community leaders may help to eradicate the traditional and apathetic view of girls’ education. Protecting girls against gender-based violence and sexual abuse and securing adequate sanitation facilities will create a safe learning environment. Increased representation of female teachers will promote female empowerment. If these main barriers to girls’ education in Guinea are eradicated then enrollment and completion rates will skyrocket.

– Jessie Serody

Photo: Flickr