|The United Nations, in
collaboration with the Nigerian government, has launched an ambitious
girls' education program to boost gender parity in primary schools. The
program is focusing on the northern region, where girls' enrollment is
Millions of girls are expected to benefit from the initiative that
supports key projects and activities, such as classroom construction and
rehabilitation, procurement of
books, and educational campaigns to track and enroll young girls.
Girls' education in northern Nigeria lags behind boys in basic
literacy, perpetuating a cycle of inequality and poverty that impedes
developing societies from achieving their full potential.
program seeks to create a girl-friendly environment in school as the first
step, as Mohammed Jallo of UNICEF explains.
"We found out that, one of the reasons parents do not want to send
their girls to school is that they believed conditions in the schools are
not girl-friendly," said Jallo. "For example, most of the schools do not
have toilet facilities, separate ones for boys and girls. So, we go to the
schools, and we help provide toilet facilities, separate ones for boys and
girls. We provide bore holes, so that the children can have access to
water supply during the time they are in school. We also help in the
provision of books. We assist in the training of teachers to improve their
skills and competencies. We also support in the supervision of teachers,
and we also help in some logistics. We advocate with governors and
chairmen to provide additional support, in terms of posting of teachers to
the schools, especially female teachers."
The initiative is addressing deep-seated cultural and religious
challenges, such as forced marriages.
Most states in Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria have adopted strict
Islamic sharia law, which many analysts see as an additional gender
barrier to education.
UNICEF recruits local community support to overcome barriers and
reverse long-held misconceptions about girls' education. Jallo says
religious and political leaders are included.
"We have been able to support the formation of what we call
school-based management committees, getting parents and community members
involved in doing the mobilization at the community level," he added. "So,
they are the ones now going to the individual households, identify
children who are out of schools, and educating and sensitizing the parents
and encouraging them to send their children to school. And we are seeing
enrollment increasing. And with the recent campaigns, because the
governors and chairmen and religious leaders, the emirs going out and talking to
parents, and even doing the registration themselves, and that adds another
level of motivation."
UNICEF is providing $47 million for the first phase of the project,
with additional funding from the Nigerian and British governments.