Challenges for Women’s and Girls’ in Education in South Sudan and the Way Forward

September 25, 2019 10:07 am 2 Comments

On the 19th October, our Team Leader, Akuja de Garang MBE, talked about the challenges for women and girls’ education in South Sudan at the Catholic University in Juba. The event, named ‘The Past, Present and Future of Education in South Sudan’, was hosted by The Rift Valley Institute and The Catholic University of South Sudan. The following is the essay read by Akuja on the day.

South Sudan has some of the lowest educational indicators in the world. Women’s and girls’ education indicators are particularly poor.  Young women between the ages of 15 and 19 are said to be more likely to die in childbirth than finish primary school. Only 16 percent of the female population over 15 is literate, compared to 40 percent for male.[1] In 2018, there were 156,085 girls enrolled in Primary One but only 5,272 in Secondary Four.[2] This indicates a high drop-out rate of girls as the climb up the educational ladder.  All these facts point to fact that there are challenges associated with women’s and girl’s education in South Sudan.

The challenges to women and girl’s education in South Sudan are multi-faceted but I want to argue that it all comes down to poverty at the household, community and institutional level.

I will attempt to explain why I say so by presenting three key barriers to women’s and girl’s education in South Sudan and how these barriers circle back to poverty and economic status.

Akuja de Garang MBE | Photo credit: Bullen Chol 

Barriers to Women’s and Girls’ Education South Sudan  
First, one of key barriers to women’s and girls’ education in South Sudan are the unfavourable sociocultural attitudes and practices that prevent women and girls from being enrolled in, staying in and completing their basic education. These unfavourable sociocultural attitudes and practices condone the fact women’s and girls’ worth is in the amount of bride price/dowry which she can beget her family when she is married. In a context, where the majority of the population is living below the poverty line, with many struggling to make ends meet day-in/day-out, marrying off a daughter is sure way for families to acquire resources.  As such, females are often married off for this purpose and in many instances at an age when they are not mature enough to effectively bear the physiological and psychological responsibilities and abilities that come with marriage.  For example, because of their (women and girls) physiological unreadiness for marriage because they are too young, South Sudan has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates globally.

Furthermore, because socially/culturally the worth of a female South Sudanese is often placed in her ability to bring in bride price and bear children, many parents/communities often see them as such do not see the value of investing in their education.   For many parents, the practice is that if they have a choice to send a son or a daughter to school, they would rather send the son, because the daughter is going be married into another family and will bear children for her family-in-law – therefore bringing wealth and prosperity for the family-in-law not her family of birth. On the other hand, the son is seen to be the carrier of the legacy of his family of birth. This is because when he marries – his children will carry his name – therefore maintaining and/or improving the socioeconomic status of his family of birth. Children are key in a context such as South Sudan, where having many off-springs is a status symbol, a sign of wealth and prosperity which equals economics.

Secondly, for a number of parents who might have the desire to send their daughters to school, affordability of education is a barrier. The direct and indirect costs of education such school fees, uniform, school material deter them from enrolling and keeping their daughters in school.   Although the Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan stipulates that basic education should be free, the reality is not the case. Primary and secondary schools levy, sometimes, exuberate fees on learners. Schools levy these fees because they are poor – they need to make an income to be able to cover their running costs. They are poor because the resources meant for them from the national budget are inadequate. Although the Government of the Republic of South Sudan has set a target of 10% of the national budget for education annually – this target is yet to be met since South Sudan became an independent nation. In addition, over the years the already allocated annual education budget execution is curtailed – not effectively and timely disbursed to service delivery units such as schools due to financial liquidity constraints/bottlenecks at the national and state level. Schools and educational institutions lack the resources and remain poor resulting in them levying fees to learners to meet their operational needs.

Photo credit: Bruno Feder

Consequently, this poverty at institutional level also impacts the ability to provide quality education in schools and education institutions across South Sudan. Because of many years of war and insufficient/inconsistent investment in the education sector in South Sudan, the quality of schooling and learning in country leave a lot to be desired. The lack of quality education in turn influences the decisions made by parents whether to send their children to school or not.  Some parents do not see the point in sending their children to school specially girls; because they   feel that their children are not learning anything much, therefore not worth the financial burden. In fact, some parents perceive education/schools a waste of time and a risky endeavour financially and may can result in their girls being ‘’spoiled’’. By ‘’spoiled’’, I mean the risk of the girls getting or forced into sexual relationships outside the sanctity of marriage with their fellow male learners, teachers and/or on the way to school.   Once ‘’spoiled’’ – their marriageable value diminishes.

Why Invest in Women’s & Girls’ Education?
Education economists have for many years studied the linkages between education and economic growth. Majority of the conclusions of these studies is that there is a link; in most of the cases the link is that – ‘’the more educated a nation is, the better the opportunities for economic growth (Aslam and Rawal). This is the essence of the notion of human capital.

The ability to read, write and count underpins long-term social and economic wellbeing. Both women and men can contribute, play an active and productive role in realising this social and economic wellbeing if they are educated. Therefore, it would be logical for countries to invest in the education for all – boys/men and girls/women.

According to the 2008 Census, females make up 48 % of the South Sudanese population. More recent estimates (from by the likes UN) puts this percentage even higher. If we are in agreement that education makes for a more productive/active individual, South Sudan cannot afford to have almost half of its population being unproductive.

There is extensive and expansive evidence that:

  • An educated girl is much more likely to have children later in life which improves her and her child’s survival rate;
  • Children of an educated mother have a higher chance of surviving childhood, growing up into adulthood healthy;
  • Educated mothers are much more likely to send their children to school – both boys and girls – which repeats the positive cycle of impact education;
  • When girls have just one more year of primary education, maternal and infant death rates decrease by 10% to 15%;
  • If a girl manages to continue to secondary school, for every year of secondary education that she receives, her potential employability/revenue generation increases between 15% to 25%, which in turn positively impacts the GDP of her country as a whole;
  • Girls’ education reduces the incidences of diseases such malaria, HIV/AIDS and preventable reproductive health problems. Therefore, an educated girl is likely to grow up to be a productive member of the society;
  • An educated woman is likely to avoid practices that harmful to the environment and natural resources which better livelihoods in the short-, medium- and long-term.
  • I personally believe that educated parents, particularly educated mothers, have a positive impact on the emotional and social intelligence of their children. Emotionally and socially intelligent children grow up to be more rounded adults, who are able to effectively deal with the trials and tribulations of life reducing incidences of violent conflict among individuals, communities and wider societal/political violent conflict – therefore promoting peaceful communities/societies/countries.

So, women’s and girls’ education are not simply a matter of her getting a better job later in life; but is a matter of survival – survival for all of us, survival of humanity, of our planet.

Education of women and girls has the power to lift societies out of the cycle of poverty and violent conflict. Educating women and girls should be seen as an investment that will yield better results for families, societies, countries such as South Sudan and world as a whole.

Photo credit: Hannah Rollings

Way Forward
I hope I have been able to make the case for women’s and girls’ education convincingly.  In terms of providing recommendations and way forward, given the multiplicity of barriers to women’s and girl’s education, solutions also need be multi-faceted. These are some suggestions:

  • Investments should be made to garner support to change attitudes and practises towards girls’ and women’s education such as sensitising individuals/communities/duty bearers in all settings. Garnering this support can happen in formal and informal – at home, in the community. The saying goes that …’’ charity begins at home.’’ I would add – change begins at home. Have conversations with your family, you friends, colleagues to make the case for women and girls’ education.
  • If your family members, friends and colleagues are convinced – they can further spread the work to their families, friends and colleagues.
  • As a citizen, speak up to influence policies in favour of women’s and girls’ education with your MPs and policy makers. Including allocation of sufficient national budgets and execution of that budget properly to invest in improving access and quality of education particularly of girls and women.
  • If you are a policymaker, use your position and clout to ensure national policies mainstream the importance of girls’ education and gender equity – because it is the right thing to do and good for the country.
  • If you are a student, research and write about topics that can inform others to improve the conditions for women and girls in South Sudan including their education.

Whoever you are, we can all play a role to influence change– at home, school, the church, mosque, office, community, parliament  – to get buy-in and leverage positive action for women’s and girls’ education.
Akuja de Garang MBE
Team Leader, Girls’ Education South Sudan,
19th September 2019
[1]  World Bank, 2013
[2] Schools’ Attendance Monitoring System (SAMS)
[3] The Education-Economic Growth Nexus, M. Aslam and S. Rawal, 2015, in Education and International Development, edited by T. McCowan and Elaine Unterhalter

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  • You are right. Having a nation filled with women, men, girls, and boys who can read and write, do math, and reason with one another will lead to stronger communities – locally and globally. Your message is logical, based on evidence, and ultimately, uplifting. I hope people have the will to listen and the ears to hear it. More importantly, may the powerful and mighty take action to improve the situation – for everyone. Carry on, GESS!

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