Cultural practices deny girls equal educational opportunities

By Julia Ndlela

Zimbabwe’s constitution clearly stipulates that education is a fundamental right of every child. The prevailing situation however points to a gross violation of the constitution as children are dropping out of school because of failure to pay astronomical fees demanded by schools.

Ester Mashavidze (17) from Sunningdale in Harare, says the problem of school dropouts used to be prevalent in rural areas but of late, children in urban areas are also increasingly affected. Ester is one of the children who have dropped out of school and is now helping her mother to generate income for the family.

Ester says she is the first born in her family and has three siblings. She says although her parents are both alive, they cannot generate income to support the family. She says her mother is a vendor, a job that keeps her away from home most of the time.

“My mother wakes up very early in the morning to go to the Markets in Mbare where she buys supplies for her stall. I am left at home to take care of my little siblings. From the age of seven I assumed the role of taking care of my siblings including cooking, cleaning the house and other household chores,” says Ester.

Ester says she dropped out of school after her second year in high school. She says it pains her to see some girls of her age going to school while she spends her time doing household chores. She says if she gets an opportunity, she would want to go back to school.

Agatha Moyo (19) who lives in the same suburb, Sunningdale in Harare is another girl who dropped out of school. Agatha says she dropped out after her parents indicated that they were no longer able to pay for her school fees.

“I dropped out of school when I was 15 years old and doing Form 3. At the moment I have lost all hope of going back to school I am now married and I have a two year old daughter. My life is just stagnant. I would have wanted to pursue a career of my choice but dropping out of school stopped all that,” says Agatha.

Agatha says with more time at home she got mixed with the wrong crowd and got pregnant at 17, and was forced to say with the father of the baby.

“I never saw that coming, l lost my focus, l was usually a nerd and introverted, but when I was home l started befriending the bad crowd, l was clueless of what l was doing and got pregnant. My mother could not even stand it and sent me away and I have been staying with him since, l wish l continued with school l wouldn’t be in this mess,” says Agatha.

Best Ndlovu (35), the Child Support Officer at Thuthuka Trust says most high school drop outs are females. She says traditionally, families invest in boys because girls can get married. This affects girls because they are viewed as objects.

“They prefer sending boys to school because they know that boys are an investment to them.

Their clan or family grows with the boy child compared to girl child who will be married and offer nothing on the table for the family expect the lobola which they will also utilize. Most boys invest back to their parents and family, and this creates a dependency syndrome for the girls to be more dependent on their male counterparts,” says Best.

Bests added that there’s a need to promote access to education for everyone taking into consideration that the girls are not left behind.

“Boys and girls should be addressed equally from household level, communities, social gatherings, and even at school. There is need for parents to reduce gender stereotyping as parents are still influenced by the tradition and culture regardless changes,” says Best.

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