2004 ZIM: Comprehensive Review of Gender Issues in the Education Sector
Author: Runhare, T.; Gordon, R.
Zimbabwe’s impressive successes in educational development since 1980 notwithstanding, there remain challenges in realising the goals of gender equality and equity in education, which are critical to the achievement of EFA. The key indicators on enrolment, access, attrition, and completion in Zimbabwe in 2001 indicated that there had been stagnation in educational development since 1990. Serious disparities and inequalities persist in the system with gender being a key contributory factor.
While there are a multiplicity of interrelated barriers to gender equity in education in Zimbabwe, three distinct areas requiring attention if equity is to be achieved have been identified: a gender-insensitive school environment.; a home and community environment that is not adequately supportive; and a policy environment that is insufficient to address the education needs of girls.
More recently, additional major challenges facing the provision of EFA and the attainment of gender equity in education have arisen from the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the problematic economic environment in the country. These factors have led to both an increase in barriers to girls’ education and limitations in the state’s ability to respond to the educational needs of girls.
At the beginning of 2004 the Government of Zimbabwe launched a new national gender policy. The introduction of this policy requires that sub-sector policies be formulated and implemented. It is therefore necessary that in the education sub-sector gender issues be identified and addressed at policy level. In order that this be effectively done, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education Sport and Culture commissioned a review of gender issues in the education sector, and in particular issues relating to girls’ education, the findings of which may inform an education sub-sector policy, plans and programmatic strategies.
The aim of the comprehensive review of gender issues in the education sector was to examine and gather adequate baseline data on the situation of gender mainstreaming in the education sector with a view to providing information on which to base a sub-sector gender in education policy and girls’ education plan to systematically eliminate gender imbalances and inequity in education.
This review encompassed a number of components with specific objectives:
- An assessment of barriers to girls, especially orphans and vulnerable girls’ enrolment, retention and performance in a sample of schools and communities in the 16 convergence districts for UNICEF assistance;
- A review of the Education Act and MoESC circulars;
- A review of programmatic strategies for education and training; and
- An assessment of education officers’ capacities for gender analysis, and, an assessment of the effectiveness of the gender focal point system.
Both primary and secondary data were reviewed at the start, as well as during the course of the study: Secondary data included a review of the available literature on theory, related research on gender equity in general and those carried out in Zimbabwe. Several reports generated by the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture and UNICEF which assisted in the identification of relevant issues, areas of concern and which also provided the contextual background for the present review were studied.
This study was carried out in five locations, both urban and rural. Three convergence districts, that qualify for UNICEF assistance, Tsholotsho, Mt. Darwin and Chegutu were selected to give as wide a geographical distribution as possible. Two urban locations, Harare and Bulawayo were also selected for purposes of comparison. Six primary schools and their adjoining communities were selected for study in each convergence district. Six urban primary schools, three in Harare and three in Buawayo were selected.
Using provincial, district and school records, the review team analysed and presented quantitative data on primary school enrolment, dropout and performance rates by gender for the 5 sampled districts and the other convergence districts for UNICEF assistance. In-depth semi-structured and unstructured but focused interviews were conducted with key informants. In-depth semi-structured and unstructured but focused interviews were conducted with key informants.
Findings and Conclusions:
Gender disparity in enrolment in urban schools which participated in this study was not a problem as heads reported that more girls than boys were enrolled in most of their schools. In both urban and rural districts, data gathered from school personnel revealed that:
- There were higher absenteeism and attrition rates among girls than boys because of economic hardships, negative cultural and socialisation factors, HIV/AIDS related factors and over burdening household chores.
- While girls had potential to match or even outperform their male counterparts in school work, teachers expressed that the home environment and their upbringing militated against them. Among such factors, teachers highlighted differential attitudes and treatment for boys/men and girls/women in society in general.
Teachers and some parents agreed that some negative attitudes against girls and women in general were responsible for girls’ high dropout rate and poor performance at school in both rural and urban areas. Gender stereotyping of social roles and activities was cited by most school teachers for differences in boys and girls’ school performance. This was found to be especially so in rural homes and communities where teachers noted that the belief in the equality of boys and girls is absent.
The cultural and religious activities that negatively impacted against the education of the girl child were most found in Mt Darwin, Chegutu and Tsholotsho. Among them were early forced marriages associated with the apostolic religion sects, all night prayer meetings which resulted in absenteeism, post adolescent initiation ceremonies which were accompanied by traditional dances (zvigure) and traditional rituals performed in most rural communities. All these activities led to high absenteeism due to children’s involvement or staying at home while parents are away.
In both rural and urban communities, it was found apparently clear that parents’ inability to pay for the many educational costs was at the centre of school dropouts, especially among girls
The HIV/AIDS pandemic has lead to an acute increase in the population of vulnerable children and most of them were orphans who had to withdraw from school. This affected both rural and urban communities. In towns, the increase of children living in the streets was a clear testimony that extended families were failing to cope with orphans of their deceased relatives. In the rural districts, most orphans were said to have migrated from towns after the death of the family breadwinners.
Several in-school factors were found to be gender insensitive and unfriendly to the girl child:
- In rural districts reviewed, primary school pupils walked an average of 10km while secondary school pupils walk as much as 20 to 25km to school. This created security problems for the girl child, who besides being tired by the time of getting to school could be sexually abused between school and home.
- Although teachers and pupils confirmed that HIV/AIDS was taught in schools as a subject most rural teachers had inadequate training and teaching resource materials for the subject. Most expressed that they could not handle issues of stigmatisation as they taught the subject to affected pupils and among affected and infected colleagues. Teachers, especially in rural schools, did not include the gender dimension on the effects of HIV/AIDS in society in their teaching.
INCLUSION OF CHILD ABUSE IN THE EDUCATION ACT
Data gathered from respondents who participated in this review revealed that one major cause for children’s lack of equal access to education is child abuse, especially with regards to the girl child. This was found to occur in the form of child labour, overburdening domestic chores for girls before and after school, selling commodities in the open markets, early/forced marriages, sexual abuse and employment of minors all of which are explicitly outlawed by the Zimbabwe’s Children’s Protection and Adoption Act Chapter 33, Sections 10 and 11. Furthermore, the CRC is clear that there should be elimination of all forms of physical, mental, violence or injury abuses and neglect of children but the Education Act has no section that specifically points to this, to protect the child while at school, home and in the community. There is therefore need to include a clause on child abuse in the Act which spells out the nature and circumstances under which child abuses can be defined, procedures and structures for identifying, reporting, investigating and charging any perpetrators of child abuse as well as extending counselling services for affected children.
GENDER SENSITISATION OF THE ACT AND EDUCATION POLICIES
In view of the realisation that available data revealed that girls are more abused and more disadvantaged both at home and school in terms of access, retention and performance, it is recommended that the Act and other MoESC policy statements be more specific on issues that help to fight the current gender bias and discrimination in education. A committee to review the Act and policy circulars should therefore be set up, aimed at ensuring that measures and programmes are put in place to:
- Eliminate all forms of discrimination for equal participation of boys/men, girls/women and persons with disabilities at all levels of educational, training, sporting and cultural activities.
- Promote gender equitable access to available educational resources and block grants/assistance, to benefit the hitherto disadvantaged girls, women and OVC in and out of the formal school system. This could include full removal of taxation and duty on all educational materials and full subsidy on fees and levies for the extremely poor social groups.
- Provide gender sensitive home/community and school environments as well as instructional materials especially in Maths, Sciences, counselling services and HIV/AIDS life skills, for which girls and women are evidently more disadvantaged.
- Discourage any traditional/cultural and religious practices that negatively affect the education of both boys and girls and that could limit their access to available information on alternative career options.
- Maximise gender sensitivity in decision making with regards to budgeting, infrastructural facilities, human resource development and mobility in order to equally cater for the concerns of both male and female stakeholders in education at all levels.
- The capacity to generate gender disaggregated data needs to be increased.
REVIEW OF THE GIRLS’ PREGNANCY POLICY AND CORPORAL PUNISHMENT (P35)
Available data from this study revealed that the P35 (Discipline in Schools) which provides continued access to schooling for girls who fall pregnant while at school is not being implemented in both rural and urban schools mainly because:
- Most girls and parents are not aware of this facility and its procedures.
- Some teachers and administrative officers have reservations to it due to its alleged negative impact on other girls as well as stigmatisation of the affected girl.
In view of these observations, it is recommended that all stakeholders (pupils, parents, teachers, EOs, DEOs, PEDs) engage in an open discussion to review the policy and come up with suggestions that can make it user friendly in schools. This calls for wide consultative workshops on child abuse in general and sexual abuse in particular. According to P35, inflicting corporal punishment on male pupils is still permitted in schools. However, to all children who gave their views, it was one form of child abuse although adult respondents viewed it as an important measure to achieve pupil discipline. CRC provision on child abuse is clear that anything that causes physical pain or injury to a child is an act of child abuse and it is on the basis of this that corporal punishment is clearly a form of child abuse which the MoESC should endeavour to eliminate from schools. Alternatives to corporal punishment should be explored through dialogue involving children, teachers, parents and policy makers, considering that research has shown that corporal punishment only induces fear and reduces children’s self esteem.
INSTITUTIONALISATION OF GENDER MAINSTREAMING PROGRAMMES
Instead of largely using the “workshop” approach which focuses more on the qualified teaching personnel and communities, gender mainstreaming could reap long-term results if equal focus is also given to teachers undergoing training. If gender sensitive teaching and analysis skills become an integral part of teacher training, qualifying teachers can become a bridge between those already in the service, pupils and the community in terms of promoting knowledge and behavioural change on gender equity as well as staff development at local levels. Teacher educators as part of their responsibility can help to produce gender sensitive reading and teaching materials as well as carry out in-service workshops for both parents and teachers during school holidays.
STRENGTHENING FAMILY AND COMMUNITY STRUCTURES FOR IDENTIFICATION AND ASSISTANCE OF OVC AND CHILDREN OUT OF SCHOOL
One finding of this study was that the identification and selection process of OVCs and the needy for assistance that targets individuals often results in suspicion, mistrust and accusations of favouritism and corruption. In view of this, it is recommended that responses to OVCs’ needs should aim to promote and strengthen community and family ties, care and support structures for OVCs. Grant schemes that benefit the community and school as a whole rather than a few individuals could help create more supportive school and community environments for all children in need. The role of the African extended family can be a useful in caring for OVCs if enough is done to cultivate and strengthen family ties and good parenting styles.
SCHOOL-BASED COUNSELLING SERVICE
This study revealed that there was a difference in the ways which Guidance and Counselling was treated in primary and secondary schools: In the former it was more of a service provided by one or two in-serviced teachers to pupils who faced individual challenges while in the latter it was offered as a subject. It was observed that teachers with inadequate training and teaching material handled the subject and this resulted in lack of commitment and pupils not taking it seriously. Even needy cases may not see its utility. It is therefore recommended that a few specialist teachers be trained and tasked to counsel pupils with the professionalism, privacy and confidentiality the process deserves. Due to stigmatisation, some secondary school OVCs preferred to suffer in silence, while most OVCs alleged that they were abused by their caregivers in various ways. These issues require deeper and patient investigations with individual children and parents affected rather than open class discussion which further stigmatises some of the children in need of psychosocial assistance.
GENDER EQUITY POLICY AND STRUCTURE TO DEAL WITH HARMFUL CULTURAL/TRADITIONAL PRACTICES
In view of some negative cultural practices and stereotyping of social roles that disadvantaged girls’ educational access and performance, the MoESC should carry out wide consultation especially involving girls and women to come up with a policy and guidelines that ensure boys and girls have equal access to resources, elements of the curriculum, time to attend school and study at home. Teachers and parents should be taught and made aware of their obligations in ensuring that gender equity is cherished at school and at home.
In order to make such a gender-sensitive policy, home and school environment a reality, the MoESC should have a substantive budget and human resource allocation rather than depending solely on donor-driven initiatives and funding. Therefore, the current appointment of a national coordinating EO on gender sensitisation should not only be maintained, but be beefed up with a team of national gender trainers and writers in various subject areas. The team would coordinate with teacher educators, teachers, parents, children, policy makers, all levels of community leadership and media practitioners. The national gender sensitisation campaigns should aim to gender mainstream the socialisation process and culture by way of drama, music, radio, mobile cinemas, television as means of communicating the message to society at large.
INTER-MINISTERIAL AND MULTISECTORAL GENDER MAINSTREAMING
Gender mainstreaming cannot be achieved within education alone, excluding other ministries and non-state organisations because most of the gender inequalities that affect the girl child’s education originate from outside the education sector. The MoESC, though the national coordinating officer should spread its influence and seek co-operation of all other government ministries and non-governmental organisations. Such an approach, in line with and guided by the National Gender Policy should help every influential organisation and individual realise a commitment for promotion of gender equity in their day to day operations, policies and procedures. Ability to take everybody aboard requires massive programmatic planning, financial and human resources. Both Ministries of Education, (MoESC and MoHET) and those of Health and Child Welfare; Youth Development, Gender and Employment Creation; Public Service and Social Welfare; and Justice and Parliamentary Affairs should take a leading role because of their direct link to issues of equality and social justice. In this regard, the MoESC, should link the government with the so many non-state organisations that are involved in the promotion of children and women’s issues as key human rights issues.
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