Frontline monarchs from African kingdoms have taken up the task to keep the continent’s girl children in schools, with the hope that this time, they will stay in school. Chineme Okafor writes
Royals by default, do not often turn up in public except for really good reasons, and when they do turn up, they try to make it memorable. Recently in Abuja, a collection of monarchs from about 20 African countries including Botswana; Burkina Faso; Democratic Republic of Congo; Sudan; South Sudan; Senegal; Mali; Comoros; Nigeria; Niger; Liberia; Cameroun; Uganda; Ethiopia; Ghana; Morocco; Zambia; Kenya; Tanzania and Zimbabwe, assembled to talk about how best to get millions of Africa’s girl children currently out of school, back to the classrooms to complete their primary and secondary education.
Standing together on the platform of ‘Keeping Girls in School Summit’ the monarchs, led by Nigeria’s Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III; and Uganda’s Kabaka of Bugunda, His Highness Ronald Edward Frederick Kimera Muwenda Mutebi II, took to deliberate the critical issue of out of school girl children in the continent, and sustainably find ways to end it.
In attendance were the Emir of Kano, His Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II; Obi of Onitsha, His Highness, Nnaemeka Alfred Nnanyelugo Achebe; the Emir of Argungu in Kebbi State, His Highness Alhaji Samaila Mera; the Nnabagereka of Buganda Queen Sylvia Nagginda; the Asantehene of Asante Ghana, Osei Tutu II; the Queen Mother of the Asante, Her Majesty, Nana Ama Konadu; and the Sultan of Zinder in Niger Republic, His Highness, Alhaji Aboubacar Sanda.
The Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan; and Chairman, Assembly of Muslims in Nigeria and the Fatwa committee of Nigeria Supreme Council for Isalmic Affairs, Sheikh Sheriff Ibrahim Saleh, were also in attendance.
Accordingly, Keeping Girls in School, is an initiative aimed at starting a social movement in Africa that will rapidly set the stage to leap frog improvement in maternal and child health and the status of women and girls in Africa.
The initiative will also engage and support traditional and religious leaders who shape social norms, culture and behaviour of a mass majority of people in Africa, regardless of class, religion or gender, to develop strategies and solutions from within and use their positions to ensure African girls finish at least twelve of year of school.
According to them, they would be tapping from within the rich, diverse cultural values of Africa’s royalties and thought leaders, to fulfil these intentions.
With poverty reportedly being one of the key reasons why girls in Africa are usually out of school, the monarchs indicated they would also seek to within the framework, promote the incorporation of in-school skills that generate incomes which could fund the girls’ continued stay in school at least through their secondary education.
With reference to reports from the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which indicated that millions of Africa’s girl children are out of school, or do not even have the means to ever get educated, the monarchs, had perhaps thought it a challenge to deal with systematically.
The UNESCO report, explained that this anomaly had continued despite an undeniable link between the education of mothers to the health and development outcomes of their families. It thus indicated that the future of African families was dependent on the education of their girl children, which the continent’s monarchs now want to deeply take up now.
Based on a 2014 report of the British Council on the status of girls education in Nigeria, as well as what drives it specifically, it was discovered that as at then, data showed that in Nigeria alone, over 5.5 million girls were out of school; while 40 per cent of women in the country had also by 2009, never attended school.
The report further stated that nearly two-thirds of women in the country’s North-west and North-east regions do not any form of formal education as against less than 15 per cent in the South South.
Detailing some of the reasons girls in Nigeria do not really go to school, especially in the northern regions, the British Council report stated that schools’ accessibility; infrastructure; safety and security; teaching and learning; school fees and costs; poverty; child labour; gender norms and stereotypes; early marriages and pregnancy; as well as religious inclinations were some of the chief culprits that need to be tackled.
It explained for instance that distance to school and perceptions of school security may often hinder parents from encouraging their daughter to attend school, while many families cannot afford the costs of schooling, for uniforms or books, as much as other families preferring to send their children to Qur’anic schools or to even keep them at home to help with domestic work or generate additional income for the home.
However, it noted, and for which perhaps the African monarchs stand for, that there are indeed immense benefits to educating women.
According to it, when women are educated, they are less likely to die in childbirth and more likely to have healthy and well-nourished children, unlike when they are not educated.
It further explained that while the children of educated women are more likely to go to school, girls’ education spurs exponential positive effects on social and economic development for generations of people, considering that it is adjudged good economics, and the best investment in a country’s national development.
Having perhaps realised that for decades, governments of African countries and their international development partners have tried so hard and with minimal success to improve on the education of girl children in the continent, the monarchs in their resolves indicated they were now willing to get committed to helping clear some of the factors that obstruct girl-child education.
Led by the Sultan and Kabaka, at the Abuja meeting which provided an opportunity for them to share ideas and best practices, as well as develop strategies and networks to keep girls in school, the monarchs signposted that their commitment could eventually open up and keep the continent’s girl child in the classrooms.
The meeting also served as a means to sensitise and equip various community leaders in the continent with the right skills to motivate parents and caregivers to get deeply committed to ensuring all girls in their constituencies complete at least 12 years of education.
Beyond this, it equally offered traditional and religious leaders who participated the opportunity to reflect and come up with ideas on how they would contribute to the movement of keeping girls in school in their communities by increasing enrolment, retention and completion of school as well as ensuring girls acquire life and livelihood skills.
They amongst other things resolved that going forward, African religious and traditional leaders will take the lead in ensuring all girls in their communities complete secondary education, including life and livelihood skills, and community values and cultures.
They also stated that communities will now explore using their own resources and initiate self-sustaining mechanisms to ensure their own community developments, adding that this will include ensuring governments take the responsibility of girls’ education very seriously.
Additionally, traditional and religious leaders will now embark on the sensitisation of, and raising of awareness on the importance of education generally, but with focus on girls’ education in particular, with specific roles assigned to religious leaders for the achievement of these objectives.
Further at the meeting, it was agreed that African women, under the leadership of Amina Mohammed, who is the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, shall support and champion keeping girls in school in Africa, as well as serving as mentors to girls and young women in the continent.
Beyond these, the monarchs also at the meeting agreed to have various African youth groups and individuals advocate for and support traditional and religious leaders to ensure that every girl in Africa has the opportunity to complete at least twelve years of education.
“They shall support girls in their communities by establishing local mentorship and outreach initiatives. They will use the ‘power of digital’ to hold governments accountable, and mobilise and advocate support for the improvement in girls’ enrolment and retention in schools in Africa.
“Religious and cultural sensitivities should be taken into consideration by policymakers in the educational sector. Each country should be supported to form coalitions of young people, religious and traditional leaders as well as women champions on keeping girls in school,” the monarchs agreed in a communique which emanated from their meeting.
To measure the progress of their commitment, the meeting also agreed that traditional and religious leaders, communities, youth groups and women champions would continue to share experiences as well as set a time frame to evaluate how well they have carried out their efforts at keeping girls in schools.
Speaking at the meeting, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III called on all traditional and religious leaders on the continent to focus on the development of their communities.
He explained that: “A key factor in the development of our communities is the education of our girls. I believe traditional and religious leaders will lead in shaping the future of Africa by ensuring all girls complete secondary school education and learn life and livelihood skills in the process.”