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Socioeconomic and sociocultural factors influencing female participation in education.

Socioeconomic Factors

Sending girls to school entails direct and opportunity costs which are prohibitive to families, particularly poor families and rural families. The following section discusses these constraints and some of the perceptions that underpin the decisions not to enroll, or to withdraw girls' from school.

Direct costs of schooling

The increasingly prohibitive cost of schooling is the major reason parents offer for not educating or for removing children, particularly girls, from school. Almost all the studies reviewed specify this as a constraint to female education. This is not surprising, given the prevailing economic crisis in the region. Poverty is widespread and affects schools and families alike. The literature indicates the extent to which parents have to cover the shortfalls due to the fiscal crisis which has had a devastating impact on household incomes and educational systems (Asomaning and others 1994, Graham-Browne 1991, Njeuma 1993, Palme 1993).

The trend to shift educational costs to parents in the name of cost-sharing is especially likely to work against girls' education (Kinyanjui 1993, Namuddu 1994). When fees were introduced in Nigeria between 1982 and 1986, primary enrollments declined from 92 percent to 75 percent (Obadina 1993). In Ethiopia, the construction of SIDA-assisted Primary Village Schools dependent on community contributions has been delayed or foiled because of the severe economic problems affecting local communities (TGE/UNICEF 1993). Schooling costs are considerable in Mozambique and are beyond the means of many rural and peri-urban families. A recent study reports that most of the rural families interviewed could not imagine sending their children to schools in town to complete primary school or attend secondary schools. Where would the child stay, how would they raise the money to supply the food, and how would they find the money to maintain the child and provide the necessary learning materials? (Palme 1993). In Cameroon many secondary schools are private and charge fees. This reportedly affects girls more than boys (Cammish and Brock 1994).

Even where primary education is free, household educational expenditures can be heavy. Apart from tuition, other cost items identified in the literature include fees for registration and admission, examinations, boarding, school building fund, parent and teacher association (PTA) fees, book rental, the cost of uniforms, the provision of furniture, extra tutorials, and transportation. These costs can add up to two or three times the cost of tuition.

The prohibitive costs of schooling have affected the ability of communities and households to educate their wards. In Mali, parents have to buy all the school furniture and make a monthly contribution to schools, an economic commitment the average family cannot or may choose not to meet for girls (Dall 1989). In Uganda, poorer parents are not enrolling or are withdrawing their children when financial burdens become too great. Indeed, parental difficulty in paying school fees is reported to have resulted in delays in the opening of schools for two consecutive years. The beginning of the school year was pushed back to allow parents to raise the required fees and to allow children to work to raise their school fees. School fees are a 'delicate and complex issue in Uganda and almost at par with the issue of teacher's salaries'. The introduction of statutory fees at the primary level, which are more than ten times greater than the previous fees, has fueled the ongoing debate, and also provides another excuse for the nonparticipation of girls in schools (Fleuret and others 1992: 20, World Bank 1992).

Studies show that in Ghana, Guinea, Malawi and Zimbabwe the costs associated with schooling are higher for girls than boys. This is due in part to the higher cost of girls' uniforms. For modesty reasons, girls are less likely to go to school in torn or ill-fitting uniforms. Because of safety reasons, parents tend to spend more money on transportation costs for girls (Davison and Kanyuka 1992, Hyde 1993, Kapakasa 1992, Hon 1990, Lloyd and Gage-Brandon 1993, Long and Fofanah 1990). Anecdotal evidence indicates that a major problem for girls' school attendance (rarely mentioned in research findings) is their lack of underwear and sanitary protection when menstruating. The cost of sanitary protection and underclothes may also contribute to making the costs of educating girls higher than those for educating boys. A recent study in Zimbabwe indicates that, 'At the onset of menstruation, girls who have no underwear or sanitary protection remain at home while menstruating and this undermines their confidence on their return to school and ultimately contributes to early drop-out (Camfed 1994: 7).

When decisions have to be made because of financial constraints, girls are more likely than boys to be held back or be withdrawn from school. The literature suggests that girls from better-off homes, who live in urban areas, are more likely to enroll and remain in school for longer than those from poorer homes and rural areas. In areas where overall enrollments are low, the gender gaps in participation are wider. (Cammish and Brock 1994, Colclough and Lewin 1993, Davison and Kanyuka 1992, Hyde 1993, Kapakasa 1992, Hon 1990, Lloyd and GageBrandon 1992, Lee and Lockheed 1990, Long and Fofanah 1990).

In many countries, some students are responsible for covering their educational costs. This has a negative effect on the length of time they remain in school and on their performance. For young girls in upper primary and secondary school, the responsibility for covering their educational costs often leads to sexual relationships with older men who can support them. Such relationships carry the risk of pregnancy which can end their schooling (Asomaning and others

1994, Bledsoe 1990, Brock and Cammish 1991, Camfed 1994, Fanta 1991, Fleuret and others 1992, Hallam 1994, Palme 1993). Such relationships also increase girls' exposure to the risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases, including the HIV virus. It is becoming increasingly evident that some men will seek sex from young women who are perceived to be free of HIV (Camfed 1994, Hallam 1994). In Zimbabwe, for example, sexual harassment of young girls is reportedly high in some areas and the deteriorating economic situation is driving many young girls into to prostitution. A study in Matebeland found that 'adolescent girls were seven times more likely to be HIV-positive than their male peers' (Camfed 1994: 7).

The high opportunity costs of girls' education

Child labour is indispensable to the survival of some households, and schooling represents a high opportunity cost to those sending children to school. While the importance of child labour for agricultural, domestic and marketing tasks, has been well documented, when it comes to child care, girls are more likely to be involved than boys, and children in the rural areas spend more time working than those in urban areas. Consequently there are fewer rural girls in schools than their urban peers (Asomaning and others 1994, Brock and Cammish 1991, Cammish and Brock 1994, Hon 1990, Lloyd and Gage-Brandon 1992, Prouty 1991, Soumare 1994).

With the rapid rate of growth in urbanization, the demand for domestic labour in urban areas has also increased. Resource-poor rural households have responded by sending their daughters into the domestic labour market in exchange for a regular cash income. This also draws young girls away from schools (Fanta 1991, Niane and others 1993, Lange 1994). Information from some studies and from the Department of Community Development in Ghana indicates that rural young girls are sent to urban areas to become domestic servants for kin and non-kin families. Such displacement often occurs in their primary school years. Their parents receive payment for their services but the girls have little or no opportunity to return to school (Asomaning and others 1994).

A Zimbabwean proverb aptly represents the economic value of girls "He is poor who has no daughters" (Dorsey 1989: 2). Due to the continuing importance of institutions such as bride price, polygamy, and adultery fines, the economic value of girls, particularly in rural areas, remains high. Girls are an important source of income for their families, and the need for additional household income often takes priority over education. This, in addition to the high status accorded marriage and motherhood, depresses the demand for female education (Cammish and Brock 1994, Soumare 1994) (see Box 2.3). In a resource-poor environment, this value takes on a significant meaning, particularly as girls approach puberty. An unplanned pregnancy may bring shame to the family and also reduce the bride price. Western education may be considered a liability to marriageability because of the common ideas about educated girls. Consequently, parents are afraid to allow their daughters to stay in school for too long (Brock and Cammish 1991, Kapakasa 1992, Niane and others 1993, Niles 1991, Norton, Owen and Milimo 1994, Prouty 1991). Other studies indicate that in some areas the lack of education may also limit the marriage prospects of young girls (Kane and de Brun 1993, Holtedahl 1993). For example in Cameroon, a young woman states that 'In all the neighboring houses young illiterate girls live with their fathers, some of them have given birth out of wedlock. The fathers do not manage to find husbands for them because the young men prefer girls who have gone to school.' (Holtedahl 1993: 286).
Box 2.3: The Economic Value of Girls

In Zambia, a recent participatory poverty assessment revealed two
reasons for the low value and demand for education in a rural Tonga
village. The education of girls is viewed as a waste because
marriage is a source of income through bride wealth cattle. Most
girls are withdrawn from school after grade four because bride
wealth payments diminish for an educated girl. Boys' education also
suffers as a result of the cattle economy, which requires that they
spend half the year, June to November, with the family's cattle at
a transhumance site away from the village. Generally, parents feel
that western education will lead to disrespectful children and to a
denigration of their way of life (Norton, Owen and Milimo, 1994:

Several girls from the Northern region of Ghana are reportedly
among the kayayoos, head porters, of Accra. Many young girls are
sponsored to come to Accra by family members for fixed periods of
time. It is worthwhile to note how the income they earn is
invested. Part of their income goes into personal savings for their
marriage or trading activities once they return home; part is
invested in buying goods for their marriage or future trade; and
part goes towards supporting their families in the rural areas.
Here is the example of a 16-year old kayayoo, whose journey to
Accra was financed by her mother and herself; "1 save on a daily
basis of 500 cedis with the susu collector and 300 cedis on a
monthly basis with ten colleagues of mine...I send at least 5,000
cedis monthly to my old lady (mother). But when I have more than
enough, I send it earlier or even twice in the month. 1 buy certain
valuable items such as wax prints, ceramic bowls, saucepans and
other household items to keep me in readiness for marriage in the
future" (Asomaning and others 1994: 9).

The following examples from Uganda also demonstrate the economic
value of girls,

'Daddy told me that he didn't have any more money to pay for my
fees but I didn't believe it because about a month after, he told
me that 1 was old enough to get married, so they introduced me to
my would-be husband and about two months later they married me off.
I am now the second wife of our husband'.

Unless the parents are convinced that the girl can fetch more bride
wealth by being educated, she does not see any hope of being
authorized by her parents to go back to school. She says she was
forced to drop-out as a deliberate act to prepare her for marriage

The drop-out says even if the government was to provide school fees
for her, the parents might refuse to let her go to school-she got
pregnant in P6 and "the whole village is complaining about girls
that the earlier they get married, the better, instead of losing
bride wealth." (Fleuret and others 1992).

Parental/familial perceptions of the irrelevance of schooling for girls

Children's educational outcomes are a direct result of how much resources and priority parents and families attach to each child. To a large extent the decision of which child to invest in is governed by prevailing gender ideologies. These may be described as sociocultural attitudes: behavior and expectations society has of women and men. When households and families make educational investment decisions, the decisions are often gender-differentiated and related to birth-order and number of siblings. Educational costs are often shared by parents, and even in households where fathers are responsible for paying school fees, mothers contribute substantially to education costs. Older siblings and relatives may also be responsible for covering educational expenses. A recent study in Cameroon showed that relatives contributed to the education of 17 percent of secondary students, the majority of whom were girls (Kilo 1994). Attention has recently been drawn to the complex web of networks and relationships that affect human capital investment behavior in the African context. These are determined by high fertility levels, high marital instability, polygamy, child fostering and a wide variety of living arrangements and family ties, gender of the child in question, birth-order, and number of siblings (Asomaning and others 1994, Bledsoe 1990, Fleuret and others 1992, Kilo 1994, Lloyd and Gage-Brandon 1992).

Parental and familial attitudes have a strong influence on the decision to invest in children's education. The literature highlights an ambivalence towards investment in female education, based on many negative perceptions of girls and women: these perceptions need to be challenged. Some parents believe that boys are more intelligent, that they perform better in school and that they are a better educational investment than girls. A factor often ignored in discussions of parental preference for boy's education is the prevalence of patrilineal inheritance systems. As the prime beneficiaries of family assets, boys are favored in human capital investment decisions. In addition, parents worry about wasting money on the education of girls who are likely to get pregnant or married before completing their schooling. There is a strong belief that, once married, girls become part of another family and the parental investment is lost (Davison 1993, Davison and Kanyuka 1992, Kapakasa 1992, Long and Fofanah 1990, Prouty 1991). Some communities and parents hold a negative view of educated girls. For example, in Chad, some parents believe that schools push girls to prostitution, make them unfaithful to their husbands and make them difficult to control by parents (Bello and others 1993). In some regions of Cameroon, educated girls are perceived as being too independent and demanding and being likely to challenge the traditional submissive role expected of them in marriage (Cammish and Brock 1994).

However, in Kenya, and Rwanda, a significant number of the mothers interviewed preferred to invest in girls' education for the same reasons often given for not investing in girls, more secure family and old age support (Davison 1993, Prouty 1991). In Zimbabwe, a group of rural parents stated that education for all their children was important, stressing that daughters were future mothers who would require money to look after their families, "and even look after us as our sons are deserting us for South Africa" (Graham-Browne 1991). In Zambia, increases in female primary and secondary enrollments, despite drought and acute economic hardship, are attributed to "peoples' belief in the value of education and their awareness of the importance of educating girls to achieve progress" (Kelly 1991: 98).

Across the region, formal education has historically been linked to employment opportunities in the labour market, particularly in the civil service (UNICEF 1992). Families tend to judge the value of education by the returns from the labour market. Given the historical exclusion of girls from education and the formal labour market, it seems prudent for families to invest in the formal education of boys because they will always be better placed to explore formal labour market opportunities. The tradition of poor female participation and performance in school and the labour market reinforces this familial and community bias (Appleton and others 1990, Brock and Cammish 1991, Davison 1993, Davison and Kanyuka 1992, Dundow and Howuth 1993, Kapakasa 1992).

Other educational agencies are viewed by society as more efficient than the formal education systems at preparing girls to be wives and mothers. Apprenticeships continue to provide practical entrepreneurial skills to young people across the region. Such programs are popular with parents who often want to ensure that their daughters acquire some practical skills before they get married. Sewing and trading are particularly popular (Akpaka and Gaba 1992, Niane and others 1993). In some instances girls will leave school of their own accord to engage in economic activities, 'Enough education to set up as a hairdresser or to run a chicken parlor may encourage bright girls to drop-out of school in order to earn.' (Cammish and Brock 1994; 238).

Parents and families often give the excuse of lack of resources for not educating daughters and girls. Although poverty is a very real constraint to education and the economic costs of education are prohibitive to some parents, research findings suggest that this categorization needs to be held to close scrutiny. Research in Malawi and Uganda (Box 2.4) suggests that 'lack of money' may in some cases be an excuse for the reluctance of parents and families to invest in the education of girls because they do not perceive the value of education for girls and also because of the sociocultural perceptions about the role of women in society (Fleuret and others 1992, Kapakasa 1992).
Box 2.4: 'Lack of Money'?

A survey of 237 drop-outs in Uganda suggests that 'lack of money'
as a reason for not educating children or withdrawing them from
school may be a cover-up for other priorities in situations where
money is not the issue. Socio-cultural factors come into play. The
authors also highlight the significance of which parent takes
responsibility for meeting education expenditures. They challenge
the notion of there being a "tradition" which determines who pays
school fees. The prevailing ideology suggests that fathers are
responsible for this expenditure, though mothers often take full or
partial responsibility for school-related costs. The study points
to a worrying trend of parents abdicating responsibility for
education and expecting children to take responsibility for their
fees. Students were observed engaging in a range of economic
activities to raise their fees; cultivating, burning charcoal and
trading. This issue was brought to the attention of the researchers
by several senior female teachers, who argued that it is directly
related to increasing student delinquency and pregnancy amongst
older schoolgirls, who generate income for their education through
relationships with older men. Attention is drawn to the danger of
AIDS and the special vulnerability of war orphans with regard to
educational opportunities (Fleuret and others 1992).

In Malawi it is observed that when one probes beyond inability to
pay, other reasons emerge, '"she lost interest", "I did not think
she was learning anything her mother could not teach her", "I did
not want her to walk to school alone when her brothers started
going to the afternoon session", "she became pregnant", "she left
because she wanted to get married". Several parents cite lack of
interest and peer pressure as a cause of drop-out yet the author
also notes the reluctance of parents to insist that children remain
in formal school. This factor is contrasted to parental insistence
that children go through initiation despite the fact that these
ceremonies often cost more than formal education (Kapakasa 1992:

Sociocultural factors

Sociocultural expectations of girls and the priority given to their future roles as mothers and wives has a strong negative bearing on their formal educational opportunities. Sociocultural customs and beliefs influence decisions to enroll girls in school, decisions to withdraw them from school, their own decisions to drop-out of school, their academic performance, and their grade level attainment.


Initiation ceremonies are still important in some Sub-Saharan African communities. In recent years research has explored the influence of these ceremonies on schooling outcomes for girls. Evidence from Malawi shows that initiation brings several dilemmas for girls, affecting their school attendance and academic performance and even leading to drop-out. The scheduling of initiation ceremonies conflicts with the school calendar, leading to absenteeism from school. Although initiation marks the passage from childhood to adulthood, school authorities continue to treat initiated girls who return to school as children. They expect them to participate in certain activities and punish them in a manner which is considered inappropriate for adults. Initiated girls also find it difficult to return to formal school or concentrate on their studies because their next expectation is marriage. A study in Malawi indicates that some parents are more willing to cover the costs of initiations than to cover formal schooling costs (Kapakasa 1992). Malawian boys also go through initiation ceremonies but the literature is silent on what effect this has on their education (Grant Lewis 1990, Kapakasa 1992).

Some initiation ceremonies include circumcision. Girls and boys who go through initiation ceremonies that include circumcision face similar dilemmas to those who go through initiation ceremonies that do not include circumcision. In Kenya, initiation/circumcision ceremonies are scheduled to take place during school holidays, but the process begins earlier, leading to absenteeism from school. Once children are circumcised, they perceive themselves as adults. On returning to school they have a negative influence on their uncircumcised peers, they are rude towards uncircumcised teachers, especially female teachers, and they become undisciplined. There is a sharp decline in their academic performance and they are likely to play truant and eventually drop-out of school. (Gicharu 1993, Nangurai 1994, Njau and Wamahiu 1994, Wamahiu 1994). The interrelationship between initiation ceremonies, bride price and early marriage and schooling is graphically illustrated in a recent publication, Figure 2.5 (Njau and Wamahiu 1994).

In Tanzania, 1991 data indicates that 'training' was the most common cause of drop-out for both boys and girls. Of the 45, 487 children who reportedly dropped-out of primary school that year, 36,941, about 81 percent of drop-outs, were attributed to 'training', which, "appears to be 'unyango' and 'jando' or puberty rites." In the past, children missed two to three weeks of schooling because of their participation in puberty rites. Today, the rites provide a reason for withdrawing children from school altogether, suggesting that the value placed on formal education is very low (TGNP 1992:82).

In some rural areas of Mozambique, families keep daughters in school after their first menstruation and initiation rituals, in a state of artificial childhood. This is viewed as a high risk against the certain need for daughters to marry and draw in male labour in the matrilineal lineage system (Palme 1993).


Religion, especially Islam, is usually associated with low female participation in schools (Appleton and others 1990, Colclough and Lewin 1993, Lange 1993). The history of the imposition of formal western education, which is associated with Christianity, and the pressure to convert, is still very much an issue in some Islamic regions. It is evident that some parents prefer Islamic education for their daughters, as the fear that western education promotes values and behavior for girls which are contrary to cultural norms (often articulated as religious edicts) remains strong (Brock and Cammish 1991, Kane and de Brun 1993, Niles 1989, Pittin 1990, Robertson 1986). However, religion is often a proxy for cultural views about appropriate female roles and it is necessary, although difficult, to distinguish between these factors.

For example, the Fula of Northern Sierra Leone were a poor Moslem society twenty-five years ago. Today they are a strong entrepreneurial force in Freetown, investing in real estate and property development. They are also using their wealth to invest in the education of their children. They have established schools and encourage their children to seek professional occupations. Twenty-five years ago, there were few Fula girls in formal schools. But as families fortunes have changed, the education of Fula girls has increased significantly (Brock and Cammish 1991). In Northern Nigeria, despite government efforts to promote Universal Primary Education, rural parents still hold negative attitudes towards western education and prefer Koranic education for girls. However, the influence of an urban setting is demonstrated by the sample of urban women in one study who supported western education for their daughters and had high aspirations for their education and employment (Niles 1989).


A recent study suggests that the negative attitudes towards female education in the north of Cameroon, predominantly a Moslem area, can be explained by, 'the remoteness, the vast distances, the poverty and the resentment of change imposed from afar'. Although the seclusion of women and their low status is justified by men as being Islamic, elite Muslim families in urban areas educate their daughters with enthusiasm (Cammish and Brock 1994; 240).

An analysis of factors in constraining girls' schooling in Mali concluded that, 'religion, as measured by the intensity of parents' religious belief and its impact on their decisions, does not appear to be a fundamental factor in shaping parents' decisions to send their daughters to school.' (Soumare 1994: 16). The majority of parents interviewed, 78 percent, disagreed that school ruins their daughters' religious beliefs. The majority of parents who did believe that religion undermines their daughters religious beliefs were rural based. Early marriage was used to measure cultural impact on parents' attitudes towards female schooling. Thirty-five percent of the parents preferred marriage over school for their teen-aged daughters. Parents from the region who held stronger views of the potential negative impact of education on their daughters religious beliefs, the majority of them rural, also indicated a stronger preference for early marriage over schooling for their girls. The other parents reportedly would neither fail to send their girls to school nor withdraw them from school for marriage alone, 'They all maintain that as long as their daughter is in school and doing well, they would ask a potential suitor to hold off marriage and give her a chance to pursue a degree. Nevertheless, during conversations with parents, they also added, "while some of our daughters drop-out due to pregnancy, most of them usually fail school and end up feeling unfit in our society any longer due to the little school experience they had. Consequently such girls would run away to the city for they would not want to marry in the village." (Soumare 1994: 17).

In Guinea, religious beliefs are reported to keep children, particularly girls, away from public school. A study team came across three villages where no children were sent to school because of religious reasons and one village where there was more resistance to educating girls than boys. Koranic school co-exists with public school but, depending on religious beliefs and gendered expectations of appropriate education for boys and girls, some communities send most children, mainly boys and few girls, to public school. The general perception is that girls "only need to learn prayers" and have no use for reading as they are unlikely to become scholars. This expectation appears to be transferred to expectations for children's schooling in the public system. Consequently girls tend to attend Koranic school for less time than do boys (AndersonLevitt and others 1994).


The sociocultural and socioeconomic factors that constrain girls' education at the household and community level are closely interwoven. Their effects on girls' education are potent and far-reaching and affect the performance and persistence of those girls who remain in school. An understanding of how socioeconomic and sociocultural factors govern household decisions leading to low investment and ambivalence about investment in female education is the key to formulating strategies to address the low societal demand for female education.

The literature demonstrates that lack of resources to cover the direct and opportunity cost of educating girls is a major constraint to girls' education. Attention could well be focused on the following points for a deeper understanding and better response to key demand-side factors.

* Demand for female education appears to be lowest in rural and marginal areas where poverty is most endemic and opportunities for income generation are limited. There is a need to identify regions and areas where participation of girls in schools is particularly poor, and systematically investigate, document and address the causes. This should be done in collaboration with local communities and should involve all the stakeholders--teachers, parents, and students.

* The complexity of household and familial perceptions of female education, residential arrangements and how these shape low investments in formal education for girls is beginning to get due attention. This warrants further research, particularly where the provision of subsidies and incentives to allow poorer parents to send their daughters to school is being considered.

* Cultural institutions and practices which limit the potential for formal female education need further analysis, preferably with communities, to enable the design of interventions in which they will participate. The limited research on the role of parallel institutions such as apprenticeships and initiations in limiting the demand for female education needs to be reinforced and discussed.
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Title Annotation:Girls and Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa: From Analysis to Action
Publication:Girls and Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa
Date:Sep 1, 1995
Previous Article:The status of female education.
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