Gender inequality in primary school education in Mozambique

October 16th, 2014

Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries in the world and has one of the least functional basic education systems. Despite a rapid expansion in access to basic education, the vast majority of pupils fail to complete a full seven year cycle of primary school. In rural areas, the ‘dropout’ rate exceeds 80% and beyond 3rd grade the proportion of girls dropping out of school surpasses that of boys.

Mozambique has taken great strides in tackling gender equality in primary school education over the last decade, through improved training for school staff on gender issues to public awareness campaigns on childhood gender issues. Yet there remains a great milieu of cultural stigmas which inhibit girls from completing their full cycle of primary school education – their human right.

Mozambique childrenPregnancy remains the biggest hurdle for girls to remain in primary school. Despite legislation to counter childhood pregnancies, they remain rife across Mozambique. In northern provinces such as Nampula, it is estimated around 60% of girls will be made pregnant. And when a girl becomes a mother, it expected – and often commanded – that the girl should marry the father of the child; often in an attempt to try to prevent the father from abandoning the mother and child. But there is a stigma regarding pregnancy, particularly in the expectant mother’s social interactions.

From my experience in Mozambique, families, cultural leaders, religious leaders, education officials and school staff were all very resolute that pregnant girls could not remain in school. It was said that a pregnant girl in school would be a “distraction” for all other pupils and the teacher and that a pregnant girl “would not like being in school”. The girl has no ability to influence the decision. This is often exacerbated further by the males they are forced to marry as a result of parenthood, who often prevent their child-wives from attending school, instead restricting them to laborious household work and draining work upon their machambas (crop fields).

For young girls, and the heads of household on whom they are dependent, unplanned pregnancies can cause severe disruption to the socio-economic stability of the family. It results in an immediate withdrawal from school for the girl (should she be at school), an inability for her to participate in many household activities, and ultimately an additional member of the household who needs food, clothing and care. The can be extremely burdensome, particularly when the fathers of the children are absent from their duties of care. The physical and financial resources used to care for the upbringing of the new-born child mean that others in the family have much less for themselves. The cultural attitudes to sex and pregnancy can thus amplify a family’s vulnerability and lack of resilience.

In many areas attitudes are changing. In urban areas are larger rural areas which have access to electricity and with sufficient educational resources, district governments are offering evening classes for pregnant girls and young mothers to continue their education. But the reality remains that they are stigmatised, forced to attend these supplementary classes – should their families and husbands permit them to do so – rather than continue to be respected as children and to learn alongside their friends and fellow children in mainstream schools. Only a handful of such evening centres exist in rural areas, meaning the vast majority of girls remain excluded from accessing their right to basic education. Here we can observe technology injustice too.

To tackle inequality in education, we need to address not only the systemic issues within school systems, but also the wider social, religious and economic inequalities too, which interact and compound to perpetuate inequalities in education. Only then will governments like Mozambique meet their requirements to ensure every child’s right to education is met comprehensively.

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