Empowering women and girls through access to safe education 

In this report, ENE OSHABA examines the unique challenges faced by women and girls in conflict-affected regions and the need to safeguard  their access to education. 

The Campaign 

The International Day to Protect Education from Attack, which is marked on September  9 every year, serves as a crucial reminder of  the pressing need to ensure that education remains a safe and accessible right for all,  

regardless of gender.

While education is fundamental to everyone, women and girls have been constantly affected by the negative impact  of attacks on schools by terrorist groups  

leading to the abduction of many girls, who are made to face life threatening living  conditions. 

A report by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) research shows that female students and teachers were directly targeted for attack at school or along school routes in at least 18 countries facing conflict and insecurity, in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), Egypt, India, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.

The report stated that Girl students and female teachers are often specifically targeted during attacks on schools. These attacks included bombings of girls’ schools, abduction, rape, forced “marriage” and other gender-based violence against girl students and female teachers by armed parties. 

It is no longer news the  continuous attack on schools in parts of the country especially the northern region where Boko Haram has launched attacks and abducted many girls from their schools, some of whom are still in captivity and have been turned into sex slaves by their abductors.

There are also many reported cases of armed parties in other countries, including Somalia, Congo, and South Sudan, where girls have also been abducted from their schools. 

Impact on education

There are various factors hindering women and girl’s access to education such as the cost, abduction, child marriage, sexual slavery, menstruation, household chores, gender-based violence, and trafficking, Conflict and Crisis has lately remained the most threatening factor to their educational empowerment in Nigeria.

Girl students and female teachers have oftentimes been abducted from their schools by armed parties. In February 2018, almost four years after the Chibok abductions, Boko Haram abducted 111 girl students from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, in northeast Nigeria. Five girls were reported to have been crushed to death during the abduction. 

Boko Haram returned all but one of the girls, Leah Sharibu was not returned because she refused to convert to Islam. The UN reported that the schoolgirls were subjected “to forced “marriage”, rape and physical and emotional violence.

In 2018, the UN reported that “Boko Haram continued to recruit children and used the girls for the purpose of bearing and detonating improvised explosive devices.

Also, when schools are attacked, female teachers face abuse that is specific to their gender. While both female and male teachers are targeted by non-state armed groups, female teachers face gender-specific types of attacks, including rape, sexual slavery, forced “marriage”.

Speaking exclusively to Blueprint

Weekend on the unique challenges faced by women and girls in conflictaffected regions, an Associate Professor of  

Philosophy, University of Lagos, Dr Karo Ogbinaka, affirmed that armed conflicts disproportionately affect women and girls  in access to Education in Nigeria. 

 Ogbinaka who is a former Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Lagos, stated that, “Armed conflicts disproportionately affect women and girls greatly. Given the Chibok and other cases parents would naturally want to keep their daughters out of danger.

“The girl child is usually given special cover by society. They are the targets for forced marriage, rape, etc. Women are first line victims when their husbands are killed in wars. The effect is colossal on women.”

Similarly, the Programme Director, PAGED Initiative, Ummi Bukar, noted that armed conflicts affect women and girls, adding that in most situations they are the casualty of conflict, kidnapping and raping whicg are some of the effects of attacks on education. 

Education for women, girls

Education is a tool to reduce inequality and illiteracy which is one of the biggest causes of poverty. In Nigeria the advocacy  

for education for all is aimed at lifting women and girls, ethnic minorities, orphans, disabled people, rural families and those who are likely to be poor. People  

become relevant to the nation and its growth through education. 

Research on various levels have shown that better educated women tend to be more informed about  nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes but unfortunately many women and girls across Nigeria are not educated due to emerging challenges of unsafe school environment.

According to Ummi, Women and girls should be empowered with education because it is the tool to achieve almost everything. It  gives access to almost everything needed in life. 

“If Women and Girls  have education they have options and they dont have to stick to whatever it is that the society or parents deems fit for them; meaning that you wont endure an unfulfilling marriage you have options and you are contributing to the society and adding value but without an education you are seen as a tool to be used  in anyway but unfortunately education is being attacked parts of the country.

On his part, Ogbinaka stressed that the educational  empowerment of women and girls is very crucial to the growth and development of any nation given that it enables a less dependent society and improves the economy.

“The education of women impacts the community greatly. Children of educated women do well in schools since mother’s are closer to the children. You will notice that communities with a large number of educated women are much more developed and economically vibrant too. If our society must stand on two legs then the education of women must be emphasized,” he said.

However, he noted that in recent times, most  institutions of learning have been peaceful. 

“Apart from the killing of a female student in Sokoto on religious grounds, our institutions have always been peaceful for female students. Nevertheless, it can be better if the right things are done.”he said.

“Education is valued greatly by Nigerians, especially at the level of the family. Parents go a long to ensure that their wards are well-educated and they also put in great efforts to secure good schools for their wards. Unfortunately, the State’s concern for the educational sector of suspect and cosmetic. Teachers at all levels are poorly paid. The institutions are left in a very poor state in funding and infrastructures. 

“In most parts of southern Nigeria the discrimination between the male vs female child’s access to education no longer exists. We need to do more in the north. The education of the girl child should be taken more seriously as the case of out of school children is becoming worrisome,” he added.

Ending GBV in schools 

The prevalence of gender-based violence in schools during conflicts calls for better strategies and programs aimed at preventing and addressing gender-based violence to create safer learning environments particularly in areas challenged by insecurity and attacks by terrorists.

For Ogbinaka most of such violence are often drug induced, just as he stressed that the reality of youth drug abuse is now obvious and needs to be totally addressed.

“Drug abuse should be tackled as many cult related problems are saddled with drug related problems too. Parents must learn to also make the boy child learn to respect the girl child. It is all about how we raise children at home and the values we instill in them as boys or girls.”

On her part, Ummi Bukar while also stressing the negative impact of Gendee Based Violence, noted that parents were scared of enrling their children in schools for fear of loosing them following the constant attacks on schools.

“Parents might limit their children access to education because they fear that the girls may be attacked and even if they are not affected directly it still affects their education because of fear.

“The fact that we are still talking safe spaces for women and girls in education means there is something wrong. Anything that has to have safe  spaces means there are victims and so why we are talking about the level of governments commitment to safe school environment we need to do more so that we can stop referring to anything that has to do with women and girls’ education as safe spaces for discussion, a lot of work still needs to be done.

“GBV can be addressed by looking at the root causes like inequality. Schools should not just focus on what works for them but what works for every single person . 

“Schools need to understand the difference between gender and sex so anything that is not done deliberately to make women or girls comfortable is a sex violation for instance if there are no water, toilets, sanitary pads, teachers addressing girls any way they want, or if girls are made to do certain things because they are girls like sweeping, its a gender violation and schools need to identify these things and target ways of eliminating violation of people because of their sex and gender.

“There should be zero tolerance for rude behaviours, bullying on the basis of sex and so many ways that gbv can be eliminated. I don’t want to talk about addressing the violence after it had been done and begin to look for stronger punishment, we need to prevent it from getting to the point of punishing violators, let’s not create the atmosphere that will enable the act of violation to thrive,” she said.

Role of stakeholders 

Speaking further Ummi Bukar noted that addressing the attack on education required concerted efforts by all stakeholders including state and non-state 

actors, religious and traditional leaders and individuals as well.

She called on organizations to help curb attacks on education by creating awareness on education, doing behaviour change and projects that target barriers to education.

She also urged Civil Society Organisations to develop strategies that can eliminate those barriers through finding those specific factors right from the family levels to communities through intense research  and looking at what the barriers are and finding ways to eliminating them.

“Nigeria needs to look at the way education policies are designed, are they working in communities what needs to be changed? What are those factors preventing girls from school and then creating policies to target those barriers will go go long way.

” I think local communities have a role to play too because if women and girls are educated then the people that benefit the most are the local communities, and they have the strongest platforms to protect education of women and girls.

Traditional leaders need to take themselves accountable by ensuring that those who are not allowing women and girls to go to school are tackled and be watchdogs for each other to know what is happening in schools, PTA should be stronger  like we see in more developed countries parents are much involved in what is happening in the school so communities must come together to ensure that schools are giving their kids the best,” she added.

“We should first appreciate the fact that unlike in the USA schools are not attacked by gunmen here. However, we do, through regular interface with authorities, call for better learning environment in our schools. All this means increase funding is required,” said Ogbinaka. 

“From the register of birth across the country government should able to know when children will be qualified to commence their education in our schools. With proper planning this becomes an easy thing to do.

The government can do more. But the safety of our educational institutions is the business of all stakeholders. There should be set minimum standards for security especially the deployment of modern technology such as CCTVs, etc,” he added.

It is important to note that for Nigeria to achieve the aim of the International Day to  Protect Education from Attack there is need  for collective commitment to safeguarding the educational rights of women and girls  living in conflict-affected areas

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