It is no longer question of dealing with either ‘Out Of School Children’ syndrome or women participation in education management. It’s all one big reality; fighting low girl child enrolment in schools and low women participation in education, ANDY ASEMOTA writes.
Increasing girl child access to basic education or increasing women participation in education management has been a topical issue among policymakers in several states in northern Nigeria. Not long ago, well-meaning people were divided on which was the more urgent challenge: fighting the low enrolment facing majority of youths in the North or halting low women participation in education decision making positions which threatened the opportunities and career of women that account for about 60 per cent of the population. If that choice was ever a dilemma, it is about to be made history in more and more states in the North. As the campaign for increased access of children to basic education successfully takes centre stage, well meaning people have come to see them as the same campaign.
A major impetus was added recently to the campaign of UNICEF Nigeria in collaboration with Federal Ministry of Education with financial support from DFID towards implementing Girls Education Project (GEP) Phase 111. GEP supports the move to improve access, retention and learning for girls in five states, namely Katsina, Niger, Bauchi, Sokoto and Zamfara in Northern Nigeria through the drafting and adoption of the bill for a law which makes it mandatory for a minimum of 35 per cent women participation in education governance or management in Katsina. Interestingly, while the members of Katsina State House of Assembly and representations from the apex body of Islamic leaders under the auspices of the State Council of Ulamas among other key stakeholders were developing the bill at a forum organised from March 21 – 23, 2018, by the Katsina State chapter of High Level Women Advocates (HILWA) in collaboration with UNICEF, their counterparts in Zamfara and Kebbi States have similar bills at different stages of enactment into law already.
The bill makes it mandatory for at least certain percentage that would be approved for women to be reserved for their appointments as commissioners, permanent secretaries, rectors, provosts, chairpersons of boards and agencies in the education sectors as well as principals, head teachers and teachers. While there have been several initiatives before it, the collaboration of HILWA and UNICEF to secure women participation in education with legislation could arguably be the turning point in the efforts towards improving the enrolment of girls in schools and women in education. The idea of setting 35 per cent aside for women participation in education decision making positions in Katsina was first formally discussed at a round table conference organised by HILWA late December last year. At the event, the representatives of traditional institution, religious leaders, the state ministry of education and its justice counterpart, the Katsina Legislature and the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) among others committed to the process of drafting and adopting the bill on the affirmative action for women. At the just concluded forum held in Kano, all the key stakeholders in the relevant sectors and the Katsina State Lawmakers in attendance were keen to see that the 35 per cent affirmative action comes to light after it had been thrashed that women contribute more to education development of children, especially girls, thus the sector should not be left in the hands of only men. Analysing the figures provided by at the conference, education specialist, UNICEF Nigeria, Azuka Menkiti, emphasised that while female teachers accounted for 30 per cent in primary schools across the state, 26 per cent in junior secondary schools and 19 per cent in senior secondary schools, that only four per cent of females were offered appointments as head teachers in primary schools, 12 per cent as principals of secondary schools and none at all as education secretary in the 34 local government areas of the state remained a cause for grave concern.
She identified the low participation of women as a major key issue militating against poverty eradication, high incidences of Out of School Children syndrome and capacity building for women to complement men in boosting education and economy. Welcoming the participants, the chairperson of Katsina HILWA, Hon. Mariya Abdulahi, pledged the commitment of the UNICEF assisted group to sustainable actions that will improve children participation in education, capacity building and support women already in leadership positions or those aspiring. Abdullahi, a former member of the House of Representatives, expressed concern over the low participation of children, especially girls, in education not only in the state but in Northern Nigeria. On the advocacy for a minimum 35 per cent women participation in education management in the state, she said the benefits of the legislation could hardly be equalled by any other strategy. In order to tackle the fall in the number of students, especially girls in the state, Abdullahi who was also a former special adviser to then governor Umaru Musa Yar’adua of the state, implored all well meaning people to support the need for a law to be passed that would encourage all children of school age to access equitable quality education, especially in the aspects of retention, transition, completion and enactment of the law that will promote 35 per cent space for increased participation of women in leadership positions in the education sectors. In his remarks, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Abubakar Yahaya Kusada, underscored the strong commitment of the legislature to HILWA and UNICEF’s spear headed quest to see real change in women participation in education as a proactive step in safe guarding the rights and interest of children and women in the state and beyond. Kusada, who hailed the well thought out goals of the group and development partners to mitigate the discrimination against women, said given women more opportunities than their current fight for 35 per cent were not farfetched. His words: “Already, we can hear the sound of the jingles beating. Let me also reassure you that the Katsina State House of Assembly solidly supports your quest to see a real change in women participation in education and politics over time. The Assembly will support you in whatever percentage you are vying for, provided that women are ready to take advantage of the percentage when you have it.” The presidency also gave the stakeholders its blessing in their effort to adopt a holistic approach to shake off the shackles of girl child and women under development and poor representation. Vice President Yomi Osinbanjo’s technical assistant on Sustainable Development,
Hadiz Aminu, in a goodwill message she delivered on behalf of the presidency, confirmed that the presidency sent its utmost regards and support to the Katsina legislators and stakeholders. The technical assistant to women and children told LEADERSHIP that if the Annual School Census (ASC) conducted by the Katsina State Ministry of Education in collaboration with SUBEB and other major players in the sector was anything to go by, women were poorly represented in management, leadership and teaching in schools in the state. “So far, the percentage is not anywhere near what we are looking for. We want to see that about 30 per cent of employees within the education sector should be women. The Katsina State House of Assembly is very keen to see this come to light because I think it has been trashed that women contribute so much to education and we can’t just leave our education in the hands of only men,” she said. She regretted that in some local government councils of the state, women accounted for barely two per cent to five per cent of the total teachers in the areas. She told our reporter that the 35 per cent affirmative action bill could hold the key to the North riding out of discrimination against women in positions of influence within the education sector. Speaking at the forum, the representative of the State Council of Ulamas, Sani Faruk, who is also the organising secretary of Munazzamatu Fityanil Islam, Katsina State branch, told participants that, “We are in support of giving women more than
35 per cent of decision making positions in education sector. Islam protects vulnerable people and supports the quest of both male and female to acquire education.” He said the religion of Islam does not discriminate between male or female education because it authorises to get education wherever possible. “In addition, we pray to Allah to help us execute this (35 per cent women participation in education) programme successfully and achieve the desired goals,” he affirmed in his presentation that was quite critical to the deliberations at the meeting. His assertion was echoed by Dr. Halima Yelwa Adamu, the first female Northern medical doctor, saying “the contributions of all the stakeholders have been excellent and we are expecting that we will have no problem when it comes to public hearing”. On the expected impact of the bill, Adamu said, “More female children going to school and more female children completing their basic education. So, it will improve the quality of future female leaders, future mothers among others.” The on-going life line being injected into the fight for increased women participation in education is an indication of genuine commitment of the present crop of Northern leaders to tackle the bottlenecks in transforming education and economy of the zone. One of the participants at the just concluded conference, Kabir Ahmad, speaking on his take-away from the forum, said the meeting exposed the misinterpretations and practices denying women and girls available opportunities in the North.