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Female education in Nigeria

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Women in Nigeria have had various challenges in order to obtain equal education in all forms of formal education in Nigeria.{{Cite webtitle=Improving women's education in Nigeria ASEC-SLDI Newsurl= Education is a basic human right and has been recognized as such since the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. A positive correlation exists between the enrollment of girls in primary school and the gross national product and increase of life expectancy.
Because of this correlation, enrollment in schools represents the largest component of the investment in human capital in any society.Schultz, T.P. (2002). "Why Governments should Invest More to Educate Girls" World Development, Vol. 30 No.2 Pp 207 - 225. Rapid socio-economic development of a nation has been observed to depend on the calibre of women and their education in that country.Nussbaum, Martha (2003) "Women's Education: A Global Challenge" Sign:: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, vol. 29, no. 2 Pp 325 - 355. Education bestows on women a disposition for a lifelong acquisition of knowledge, values, attitudes, competence and skills.Aliu, S, (2001). "The Competitive Drive, New Technologies and Employment: The Human Capital Link". A Paper presented at the Second Tripartite Conference of Manpower Planners. Chelsea Hotel, Abuja.
To ensure equal access to education, the National Policy on Education states that access to education is a right for all Nigerian children regardless of gender, religion and disability.


Before 1920, primary and secondary education in Nigeria was within the scope of voluntary Christian organizations. Out of a total of 25 secondary schools established by 1920, three were girls only and the remainder were exclusively for boys. In 1920, the colonial government started giving out subvention to voluntary associations involved in education, the grant-giving lasted till the early 1950s and at that point, education was placed under the control of regions. In 1949, only eight out of a total of 57 secondary schools were exclusively for girls. These schools are Methodist Girls' High School, Lagos (1879), St Anne's School, Molete, Ibadan (1896), St. Theresa's College, Ibadan (1932), Queens College, Lagos, (1927) Holy Rosary College, Enugu (1935), Anglican Girls Grammar School, Lagos, (1945), Queen Amina College and Alhuda College, Kano. From 1950 up till 1960, six more notable schools were established and by 1960, there were fourteen notable girl's schools, ten mixed and sixty-one boys only.
; 1960s : In the 1960s, when most African states began to gain their political independence, there was considerable gender disparity in education.Swann, J. and Graddol, D. (1988) 'Gender equalities in the classroom talk'. English Education 22/1:48-65 Girls' enrollment figures were very low throughout the continent. In May 1961, the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UNESCO's educational plans for Nigeria were announced in a conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A target was set: to achieve 100% universal primary education in Nigeria by the year 1980.Conference of African States on the Development of Education in Africa Addis Ababa, 15–25 May 1961
; 1970s :The implementation in the 1970s of the free and compulsory Universal Primary Education (UPE) was in line with this UN Plan.UNESCO. Gender and education for all: the leap for equality. Global monitoring report 2003/2004. http:// WWW.UNESCO/ PDF/chapter3.PDF. Ever since, UNICEF and UNESCO and many other organizations have sponsored, research and conferences within Nigeria regarding the education of girls. Up until the 1970s, considerably more boys than girls participated in education in Nigeria. According to one Nigerian Historian Kitetu, the native traditions' philosophy was that a woman's place is at home and this kept many girls away from education. However, with the government's intervention and public awakening, parents began to send and keep their girl children in school. Consequently, women's involvement became more visible.
; 1990s : It can be noted that purposeful plans of action led to an increase in females in schools after 1990. While more boys than girls were enrolled in 1991, a difference of 138,000, by 1998 the difference was only 69,400. At the pan-African Conference held at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in March and April 1993 (three decades after the UN Declaration of the 1960s) it was observed that Nigeria was still lagging behind other regions of the world in female access to education.Kitetu, C (2001). ‘Gender in education: an overview of developing trends in Africa’. CRILE Working paper, Egerton University, Kenya.UNESCO. "The Education of Girls: The Ouagadougou Declaration and Framework for Action" Pan Africa Conference on the Education for Girls. It was also noted that gender disparity existed in education and that there was need to identify and eliminate all policies that hindered girls’ full participation in education.Obasi, E. (1997) 'Structural adjustment and gender access to education in Nigeria'. Gender and Education, 19 161-177.

Gender disparity in schools

From 1970 to 1994, the enrollment of girls in primary education steadily increased from 30% to as high as 80%. However, differences exist between enrollment of males and females in all levels of education. In addition, the drop out rate of girls is higher than boys and participation in STEM classes are lower for girls than boys.Ogunjuyigbe, P.O., Ojofeitimi, E.O. & Akinlo, A. J Sci Educ Technol (2006) 15: 277. Science Education in Nigeria: An Examination of People’s Perceptions about Female Participation in Science, Mathematics and Technology. doi:10.1007/s10956-006-9014-6 In 2002, the combined gross enrollment for primary, secondary and tertiary schools for female was 57% compared to 71% for males.Ojo, A. (2002). "Socio-Economic Situation", in Africa Atlases (Nigeria), Paris-France, Les Editions J.A., Pp. 126-127.
This translates into fewer women in certain economic fields. The percentages of female workers in some selected professions in 2012 were as follow: architects, 2.4%, quantity surveyors, 3.5%, lawyers/jurists, 25.4%, lecturers, 11.8%, obstetricians and gynecologists, 8.4%, pediatricians, 33.3%, media practitioners, 18.3%.Abikwi, M. and Onyemah, L. (nd). Educational Inequalities and Economic Development of Women in South-South Nigeria. World Educators Forum. Retrieved from:
Issues of gender equality in education have been the subject of much debate during the past decades and have become a prominent topic of debate in all countries. In Nigeria, there are large disparities between the education that boys and girls receive. Many girls do not have access to adequate education past a certain age. In 2010, the female adult literacy rate (ages 15 and above) for Nigeria was 59.4% in comparison to the male adult literacy rate of 74.4%. It is differences in education that have led to this gap in literacy.World Bank report. 2010 The gender gap in literacy rates in 2000 at the rural level between boys and girls was 18.3 percent in favour of the boys overall. In the age group 6–9 years (primary school ages) it was 3.9 percent in favour of boys.CBN (2000). Annual Report and Statement of Accounts 31 December 2000.
This indicates that there is a gender dimension to educational attainment and development in Nigeria. According to the Examination Council of Nigeria (1994) there are still other problems, such as high drop-out rates of females students, poor performance, reluctance on the part of females students to enroll in science-based courses and poor classroom participationExamination Council of Kenya. (1994) Government printers. Across various geo-political delineations in Nigeria, a greater percentage of school-age girls are needlessly out-of-school, compared with the ratio applicable to boys of same age grouping.Adeniran, Adebusuyi Isaac.(2007) "Educational Inequalities and Women's Disempowerment in Nigeria" Department of Sociology, University of Lagos, Nigeria
Gender disparity is also visible in the education of children with disabilities, a study in the 1990s revealed that only 37% of disabled females are literate compared to 57% for males. A reason for this situation is the cultural notion that the male will carry the family name while the female will marry. Also, the option of street begging by young disabled girls in order to earn income can inhibit their attendance of classes.
The completion of the second Millennium Development Goal’s (MDG) target i.e. ‘education for all’ by 2015 is at risk after having missed the initial deadline of 2005. In Nigeria, educational facilities are generally believed to be inadequate and access is limited for many, especially girls and women.Uku, P. (1992). "Women and Political Parties" in Chizea and Njoku (eds.) Nigerian Women and the Challenges of Our Time, Lagos, Malthouse Press Ltd. According to the United Nations Human Development Report (2005), Nigeria was classified as a low development country in respect of equality in educational accessibility.UNDP (2005). Human Development Report, New York, University Press.

Reasons behind the disparity

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There are various cultural and socioeconomic issues in Nigeria that prevent women from having adequate access to education. Among other factors that influence girls’ disparity in education, parents/Guardians account for 90 per cent , religious leaders 69 per cent, traditional leaders 54 per cent and community-based organisations 51 per cent.

Culture, values and tradition

Various cultural and social values have historically contributed to gender disparity in education. According to work done by Denga, one prominent cultural view is that it is better for the woman to stay home and learn to tend to her family instead of attending school.Denga, D.I. (1993). Education at a glance: From cradle to tomb. Calabar: Rapid Educational Publishers Ltd. To explain the fact that more boys than girls participated in education, Nigerian researcher Obasi identified a host of constraints with 'Nigerian tradition' being named as top of the list.
The 'Nigerian tradition' was explained as a tradition that attaches higher value to a man than a woman, whose place is believed to be the kitchen. {{Cite newslast=Alongefirst=Sededate=2016-10-17title='My wife belongs in the kitchen'? President Buhari isn't helping Nigeria Sede Alongelanguage=en-GBwork=The Guardianurl= A study by the University of Ibadan linked the imbalance in boys' and girls’ participation in schooling was to the long-held belief in male superiority and female subordination.Uwakwe Charles, Ajibola Falaye, Benedict Emunemu and Omobola Adelore (2008). "Impact of decentralization and Privatization on the Quality of Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Nigerian Experience." European Journal of Social Sciences, Volume 7, Number 1. University of Ibadan, Nigeria. This situation was further aggravated by patriarchal practices which gave girls no traditional rights to succession. Therefore, the same patriarchal practices encouraged preference to be given to the education of a boy rather than a girl.
The Nigerian society (both historical and contemporary) has been dotted with peculiar cultural practices that are potently hurtful to women's emancipation, such as early/forced marriage, wife-inheritance and widowhood practices.Nmadu, T. (2000). "On Our Feet: Women in Grassroot Development", in Journal of Women in Academics, Vol. 1 No 1, Sept. 2000, JOWACS Pp. 165-171. As daughters self-identify as females with their mother and sisters, and sons as males with their father and brothers, gender stereotyping becomes institutionalized within the family unit.Haraway, D. (1991). Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, New York,Routledge. Also, the dominant narratives of religion in both colonial and post-colonial Nigerian society privileges men at the detriment of women, even in educational accessibility.

Cost of education

The decline in economic activities since the early 1980s has made education a luxury to many Nigerians, especially those in rural areas. Because Nigerian parents are known to invest in children according to sex, birth order or natural endowments, girls and boys are not exact substitutes. Often the family can only afford to send one child to school. Because daughters have assumed responsibilities in the home, she is less likely to be the one to attend school.

Colonial policies

At the beginning of colonialism and Christianity, rigid ideals about gender perceptions were imposed on the African mind.Hammond, D. and Jablow, A. (1992). The Africa that Never was, Prospect Heights. Woveland Press. Thereafter, the woman's role has come to be limited to sexual and commercial labour; satisfying the sexual needs of men, working in the fields, carrying loads, tending babies and preparing food. The disempowering colonial ‘ideology of domesticity’ as espoused by the practice of ‘housewification’ provided the springboard for women's educational imbalance in parts of Africa.Gaidzwanwa, R. (1992). "Bourgeois Theories of Gender and Feminism and their Shortcomings with Reference to Southern African Countries", in Meena, R. (ed.) Gender in Southern Africa: Conceptual and Theoretical Issues, Harare, Sape Books. As such, the overall human development in Nigeria is being hindered by this unevenness in educational accessibility across gender categories.Abdullahi, G.L. (2000). "The Crisis of Democratization: Women’s Vision of the Way Forward", in Journal of Women in Academics, Vol. 1 No. 1, Sept 2000, Pp. 183-189.


While most of the Millennium Development Goals face a deadline of 2015, the gender parity target was set to be achieved a full ten years earlier - an acknowledgement that equal access to education is the foundation for all other development goals. In countries where resources and school facilities are lacking, and total enrollments are low, a choice must often be made in families between sending a girl or a boy to school. Until equal numbers of girls and boys are in school, it will be impossible to build the knowledge necessary to eradicate poverty and hunger, combat disease and ensure environmental sustainability. Millions of children and women will continue to die needlessly, thus placing the rest of the development agenda at risk. It is extremely important that girls have access to an education. For every additional year girls go to school, they receive 20 percent higher wages and suffer 10 percent fewer child deaths.UNESCO. (2008) “Education for All by 2015: Will we make it?” Global Monitoring Report. New York,NY UNESCO/SS/1. UNESDOC database:
Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care, ensure their children are immunized, be better informed about their children's nutritional requirements, and adopt improved sanitation practices. As a result, their infants and children have higher survival rates and tend to be healthier and better nourished. According to The International Center for Research on Women, the education that a girl receives is the strongest predictor of the age she will marry and is a critical factor in reducing the prevalence of child marriage.Jain, Saranga and Kathleen Kurz (2006). ICRW research on prevalence and predictors of child marriage in developing countries. The World Bank estimates that an additional year of schooling for 1,000 women helps prevent two maternal deaths.UNICEF - State of the Worlds Children (2004) Also, each additional year of formal education that a mother completes translates to her children staying in school an additional one-third to one-half of a year.
Many policy analysts consider literacy rates as a crucial measure to enhance a region's human capital. This claim is made on the grounds that literate people can be trained less expensively than illiterate people, generally have a higher socio-economic status and enjoy better health and employment prospects. If women are these illiterate people, that makes them even more disposable to their economy. Policy makers also argue that literacy for women increases job opportunities and access to higher education.UNESCO (2004) "the Plurality of Literacy and its Implications for Policies and Programs" UNESCO Education Sector Position Paper. Although it is often viewed that a woman working in the home benefits her family, it puts a strain on the whole community as education is one of the keys to success and being able to prosper. According to Ojo, women in Nigeria are harder-hit than men by poverty due to the lack of emphasis placed on female education, and the prevalence of early marriage which tend to further impoverish women, and subject them to statutory discrimination.
The most important ingredient of employment opportunity is education, especially higher education. If employment opportunities are different, standards of living, life expectancies and other parameters of existence and of well-being, will be different. "For Nigeria to achieve the goal of being among the largest 20 economies in the world, she must rapidly educate the children, most of all, the girls. Educating girls is known to be the basis for sound economic and social development. Educating girls produces mothers who are educated and who will in turn educate their children, care for their families and provide their children with adequate nutrition," says Dr. Robert Limlim, UNICEF's Deputy Representative. "Therefore educating girls translates to better health for the children, reduction in child morbidity and mortality, thus triggering off a snowball effect of achieving all the other MDGs in a sustainable manner."UNICEF Press Release 2008.

Current policies of progression

Currently Nigerian women are making many advancements within their society. In recent years, three male-dominated professions, the Nigerian Medical Association, the Nigerian Bar Association and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, have been led by female presidents.Anugwom, Edlyne E. (2009) "Women, education and work in Nigeria" Department of Sociology/Anthropology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria. The subsequent creation of the National Commission for Women and a ministerial portfolio for Women Affairs provide additional avenues for the promotion of women's educational issues and the enhancement of the role of women in national development by way of a statutory body and a Ministry.
Today, more children go to school and learn to read and write than in previous decades. As a result, younger persons are much more likely to be literate than older persons. In a survey done by the International Education Statistics measured Nigerian literacy across different 5-year age groups. Among persons aged 15 to 19 years - those who were of primary school age in the 1990s - the literacy rate is 70%. Among persons 80 years or older, only 13% are literate. Additionally, the gap between boys and girls aged 15 to 19 is only 11%.Huebler, Friedrich (2008) "Adult Literacy in Nigeria" International Education Statistics
Nigerian women's access to formal education is still being constrained due to their unfair workload within the household division of labour. Consequently, the realization of the MDG3's ‘gender equality and women empowerment’ targets is being impeded harshly.Opaluwah, A.B. (2007). "Nigerian Women and Challenge of MDGs", Daily Independent,
Monday, March 12, 2007, Pp. B5. Moreover, according to Bhavani, such unequal social and gender relations needs to be transformed in order to take women out of want and poverty.Bhavani, K.K., Foran J., and Kurian, P. (2003). Feminist Futures – Re-Imaging Women, Culture and Development, London, Zed Press.
A 2007 UNESCO and UNICEF report addressed the issue of education from a rights-based approach. Three interrelated rights were specified and must be addressed in concert in order to provide education for all:UNESCO (2007) "A Human Rights-Based Approach to Education for All" United Nations Children’s Fund; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The right of access to education - Education must be available for, accessible to and inclusive of all children weather male or female gender.
  • The right to quality education - Education needs to be child-centered, relevant and embrace a broad curriculum, and be appropriately resourced and monitored.
  • The right to respect within the learning environment - Education must be provided in a way that is consistent with human rights, equal respect for culture, religion and language and free from all forms of violence.
UNESCO estimates that an estimated $11 billion per year is necessary to reach the 2015 EFA goals. The disparity between need and aid is apparent: aid sent to low-income countries to provide basic education in 2004 and 2005 was at an average of $3.1 billion per year. The Fast Track Initiative (FTI) provides one of the most promising paths to universal primary education by 2015. Set up as a partnership between donors and developing countries and non-governmental organizations, the FTI endorses developing countries that put primary education at the forefront of their domestic efforts and develop sound national education plans. Nigeria is already maximizing these resources for the advancement of the younger generation.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and acceded to by 180 States, sets down rights for women, of freedom from discrimination and equality under the law. CEDAW has realized the rights and equality of woman is also the key to the survival and development of children and to building healthy families, communities and nations. Article 10 pinpoints nine changes that must be changed in order to help Nigerian women and other women suffering from gender disparity. It first states, there must be the same conditions for careers, vocational guidance, and for the achievement of diplomas in educational establishments of all categories in rural as well as in urban areas. This equality shall be ensured in pre-school, general, technical, professional and higher technical education, as well as in all types of vocational training."CEDAW 29th Session 30 June to 25 July 2003." Welcome to the United Nations: It's Your World. Web.

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