Snapshot on girls’ schooling

After being shortly in charge of Human rights in the French Foreign Ministry Rama Yade is “Secrétaire d’Etat” in charge of Sports. This is clearly not a promotion and she faces several political difficulties. She recently declared being “a statistical anomaly” as a young women from ethnic minorities and called the french political system a “gerontocracy”.

Posted originally the 8th march, at the occasion of the international women day,  this note is a form of homage to “statistical anomalies” who gained access to political or managerial positions. It gives a snapshot on girls schooling in the   developing countries with Rama Yade trajectory as a thin guiding thread. In short and to have fun you can read the excellent comic “Aya de Yopougon” in French,   another statistical anomaly, which tells the struggling story of a girl from a suburb of Abidjan for access to higher education. If you prefer the statistics and thousands of reports on the issue, please read this post for a few resources and analysis.

The gender parity challenge

At the Dakar Forum on Education for All, the goal of gender parity has been set for 2005. The following graph shows that the target was not achieved despite significant advances. One can choose the percentage of girls among new entrants, which is a simple indicator to measure access to school of girls against boys.

The performance of South & West Asia is actually that of India, a country whose practices of segregation and discrimination against girls are secular. These aggregated statistics which are estimates hide success stories in particular countries such as Benin (+4%). The abolition of school fees occurred recently in this country should further improve the situation. However, although free education is often stated in the constitution law, this abolition is not yet universal, which is contradictory with the rhetoric of Dakar’s forum . This fundamental issue raises a number of management problems of the education system, somewhow over amplified in official discourses when considering budget perspectives. As mankind has well progressedl in terms of abolishing the death penalty, it may succeed in abolishing poverty, in a few generations …

The formalisation of the “gender issue” by the development agencies

These progresses are the result of policies designed to stimulate the social demand but also a consequence of a better school provision. In a review of the policy impact of girls’ schooling initiatves (somewhat outdated, 2003), a report by IIEP (an Unesco Institute) says that “effects related to the school provision are better measured than the incentives aiming at the social demand or need” and stress to “improve the coordination of agencies working in the field of education of girls.”

A United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative has been set up (UNGEI) in 2000 and a “super” agency dedicated to women’s rights is under consideration at the UN. The field of education for girls has been invested by international organizations such as UNESCO and UNICEF, but especially by NGOs. Thousands of projects have been mounted and specific institutions have been created as the FAWE (Forum of African Women Educationnalists). For some, the progress in girls schooling should be the sole account of the improvement of school provision, and  projects, of construction of latrines, literacy of mothers, scholarships have no impact… I take a good distance with so abrupt opinions. A few stars embed in the girls schooling promotion such as the African singer, Angélique Kidjo.

These “gender” projects often have the support or are directly controlled by women originated from Northern Europe countries. Many of these projects are funded by a Norwegian fund (NETF), such as gender research conducted by FAWE.  In northern countries, women have largely succeeded in becoming equal to men in terms of law, power, wages etc. .. In some countries, if I give credit to the speech of the Danish Ambassador in Benin in 2005, the greater inclusion of women in political and public life has been the starting point of development.

The feminist movement as an origin ?

Thus, it seems there are plans to implement some form of social struggle inspired by various currents of feminism. We also recommend on the subject to read the book (FR) from Makthar Diouf (a man!): Eclairage sur le(s) féminisme(s), 2009, Presses Universitaires de Dakar.  The current Socialist-Marxist feminist stream, born according to Diouf in American & English universities in the 1990s, seems a good source of inspiration for many development initiatives (communities of women, etc. …) According to Simonne de Beauvoir (“The Second Sex “) solidarity is primarily a matter of social class rather than driven by gender, but these considerations are a bit outdated. What impels a rich woman graduate from the North to help a poor black woman?

Anyway, the “gender issue” has flourished to the point where it is recommended that any development expert “engender” the report or study …otherwise under pain of being accused of terrible macho attitude or called traitor if she is a woman. I exaggerate a bit … but the question is whether the real target would not have mistaken. Instead of facing mainly a “gender issue” education systems are rather struggling with drastic poverty or ethnic minorities challenges.

Are Rama Yade difficulties related to the sole fact that she is a young woman or because she is black?  The last monitoring report on Education for All UNESCO released a few weeks ago marked a repositioning of the aid debate on the issues of ethnic minorities and not simply on “gender issue”. See my post here (FR).

Is gender really the issue ?

An article by Alain Mingat published in 2003 entitled “The magnitude of social disparities in primary education in Africa” (FR) give us further insight, even if the data is outdated. Below is the chance (probability) to complete primary education or access to the last grade of primary school by gender, place of residence or poverty. The graphic is very clear, around the year 2000 in 21 countries in Africa, a poor is three times less likely to complete primary education than a rich, whereas the differences between girls and boys have lower magnitude (11 points). However, handicaps are cumulative and a poor girl living in rural areas has very little chance of completing primary school and therefore to run for Presidency… 

Conditions for girls to succeed at school

Concerning our champion, Rama Yade, we note that her father was the personal secretary of Leopold Sedar Senghor, Senegal President from 1960 to 1980. She was raised among the francophone political elite and her actual situation would have been different if a peasant’s daughter. Promoted by Nicolas Sarkozy, she has succeeded through education through her parents and in the French school system. She is currently one of the most popular politicians for the French people, according to opinions polls. But she is very far from Condoliza Rice career and could hold the Human Right secretary as long as she kept quiet and let Bernard Kouchner, his boss as the Ministry of foreign affairs, takes the initiatives and the credits.

It should be noted that in France, policies aiming Education for all held in the nineteenth century did not clearly targeted girls schooling first. According to Napoleon girls “became what they could,”. But 150 years after the first baccalaureate in 1861 gender parity have been reached at school, except in large the most prestigious engineer schools and universities.  In terms of wages and access to senior or political positions, it is far from satisfactory and the Napoleonic legacy is still alive. See le Monde dossier (FR). To go further you can also you watch the excellent TV movie of France 5, “la Française doit voter” on the male-dominated republic. “Let us not, by a unwise vote, declare bankruptcy and impotence of man of France!” Edmond Lefebvre du Prey

Today in some parts of Benin and Senegal, there are hardly any girl with a higher secondary degree while some high schools for girls in Dakar have very good results. This is not a problem of supply. Girls in school are victims of violence or sexual blackmail for notes, which turns parents reluctant to their schooling. The problems of girls’ schooling is usually explained by cultural factors following very large and vague considerations. On violence on girls in schools, see this study (FR) from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs or view this report on Senegal commissioned by USAID. You can also immerse yourself in reading the latest volumes of Aya Yopougon!

Oddly enough, the idea of separating girls from boys in schools is never put forward in developing countries, at least in the public sector.

Gender and ethnicity

For Makthar Diouf, who draws on the work of Cheikh Anta Diop, the pre-colonial African society was more matriarchal than patriarchal (the Queen of Sheba, repeatedly referenced in the Qur’an), so the problem of schooling for girls is derived from colonialism, who did not privileged women in the first place. This work may have influenced the African elites and thus explain some delegation of projects to NGOs and the absence of real public policies on gender at school or elsewhere.

But before being a fact closely related to sex, gender issues could be primarily an ethnic phenomenon. The schooling of girls is not a problem in all parts of the world.

According to an IMF paper (2007): “UNESCO recently estimated that 43 million school-age girls are not enrolled in school … This gap is due overwhelmingly to the lag in schooling of socially excluded groups, often minority groups that are on the margins of society and in which girls are at a distinct disadvantage relative to boys. Indeed, we estimate that approximately 70 percent of these out-of-school girls come from such groups.

Basically, this situation is the result of centuries of stigmatization of ethnic groups. The chart below from an article by Maureen A. Lewis and Marlaine E. Lockheed (2007), for IMF is very clear:

The analysis refines the work of Professor Mingat. In Guatemala, discrimination applies only to indigenous women (red curve). It would be interesting to study the evolution of such curves in Bolivia, where an indigenous, Evo Morales was bring to power and watch how the reversal of historical and political situation can influence the course of education.

In some Andean tales, there was a time when power was held by women, a kind of Amazons. Women in power have not always been a “statistical anomalies”, according to the legends.

In terms of learning achievement, the differences between girls and boys are not very marked according to international assessments, despite persistent prejudices:

But all available evidence suggests that, once in school, excluded girls perform as well as, or even better than, excluded boys at the primary level (although the achievement levels of children excluded as a whole lag behind Those Majority of children.”

The ongoing work of FAWE with PASEC and SACMEQ data should enlighten us further. The “statistical anomalies” or Amazons who rides the education system are very successful and they do scare men obviously.

Happy Birthday to “statistical anomalies”!

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