by Pamela Obonde
Pamela is a wife, mother and community worker who holds a BA in Public Adminstration and Psychology from Marathwada University, India. Pamela is a born again Christian with a passion for women’s and girls’ empowerment. She continues to exercise her passion and calling through a local NGO- Angolo Community Development Centre. Her work has seen her traverse the vast countryside to reach and work with girls and women both in the remote rural villages and in the urban slums. Pamela is an active member of Family Celebration Church, a local Mennonite congregation which is pastored by her husband, Pastor Patrick Obonde.
I am the third born child of the nine children in my family, six girls and three boys. My mother, being a daughter to a church Pastor, appreciated the importance of education and she vowed her children would get an education despite all the odds that stood in her way. In my culture boys are more sought after to cement any marriage so it was “bad luck” for my mother who gave birth to six daughters in a row. She was ostracized; therefore she moved out of the home away from the ridicule and name-calling from my grandmother and other women in the village.God eventually blessed her with three sons. My parents who were peasant farmers struggled to send all their nine children to school. I was privileged to earn a college degree out of the sacrifice and pulling together of the community of believers who saw my interest and dedication to learning.
I have been and still am a crusader of girl-child and women empowerment in my community, church and the country as a whole. I am a member of the Alliance of Children’s Rights in Kenya and the Right to Play caucus. I sit on these committees that give an advisory role to the Ministry of Education.
The typical day of a school-going orphaned girl-child in my village (who lives with her grandmother) starts at 4:00 am when the girl has to wake up and take care of the needs of the day like fetching water for her grandmother about 3 kilometers away, come and cook porridge (if there is flour), sweep the homestead and then off to school.
She will stay in school until 4:30 pm (never mind that she has not had lunch) and start walking back home as she picks firewood to cook the evening meal. She will reach home at dusk and start the process of cooking and all household chores. And tomorrow the same procedure is repeated all over again.
I champion the right to education for ALL children particularly girls. To this end we have established an educational centre for the orphaned children and an Income Generation for the widowed women/grandmothers who take care of these children. This serves as a channel for women’s empowerment.
Education plays a significant role in releasing a child from poverty. An educated child is equipped with the tools to fight poverty and conquer disease. School offers a safe,supportive environment for children to learn life skills and make friends. Even today persistent stereotypes and barriers keep women and girls from equal access, representation and compensation in our communities.
Although Kenya implemented the Free Primary Education in 2003, the government still has challenges reaching all its school-aged population especially those in marginalized and rural communities.
From birth girls in Kenya face tremendous challenges. Sadly 52% of Kenyan girls receive no more than an 8th grade education and 16% of women lack basic literacy skills. Its root: extreme poverty where 43% of the population lives below the poverty line and 15% of Kenya’s 15 million children are orphans.
Even when families do have resources to support a secondary education, they tend to invest it in their boys. When you compare these challenges with the tendency to undervalue girls and rampant gender-based violence, the world quickly becomes a difficult place for young girls to navigate.
Although primary education is universal in Kenya, secondary school fees are out of reach for the majority of the poor; therefore less than half of the girls in Kenya enroll in secondary school.
A country that does not invest enough in educating and empowering girls is undermining its socio-economic resilience, productivity and competitive potential. Investing in girls’ education is investing in development.
Despite the strides Kenya has made in expanding educational opportunities since independence (1963), the access girls have to educational opportunities continues to be limited due to various socio-economic and political barriers. Measures to level the educational playing field remain critical for girls, families, communities and the nation as a whole, which cannot afford to be disposessed of the full potential of over half of its population: women.
Education is a fundamental human right and a fulfilling experience that helps girls and boys reach their full potential in society. Education also serves as the means to bring about the desired change in society, to develop a generation of virtuous individuals and to contribute to the development of society. It equips individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to realize their potential and to protect themselves from the harm of ignorance, disease and poverty.
Education at all levels is still a gendered terrain and gender disparities are widest at the secondary and tertiary levels. Educated women tend to have children who are better educated, healthier and also fewer children to begin with.
Accordingly, the returns of educating girls include the reduction of child and maternal mortality, improvement of child nutrition and health, lower fertility rates, enhancement of women’s domestic roles and their political participation, increase in productivity and economic growth and protection of girls from HIV/AIDs, abuse and exploitation.
It may thus be argued that until equal numbers of girls and boys are in school, it will be impossible to eradicate the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger, disease, ignorance and instead ensure environmental sustainability.
Education for women helps prevent maternal deaths. Education is the single most important determinant of both age at marriage and age at first birth.General observations reveal that the majority of girls with no education or who do not complete primary school are likely to be mothers or pregnant before age 20 as compared to those who complete their education.
Women cannot defend themselves against physical and sexual abuse until they have the authority to speak against it without fear. Education gives women authority.
Womens’ participation in the labor force is still low at only 30%. Education enables women to acquire the skills needed for job entry, improves chances of job mobility and enhances overall labor market productivity.
The longer a girl is able to stay in school, the greater her chances to pursue worthwhile employment, long-term education and a life without the hazards of extreme poverty.
Unschooled women are likely to have little or no social and political say. Their rights and access to land, credit and education are limited not only due to discrimination but because of more subtle barriers such as work load, mobility and low bargaining position in the household and community. As women get the opportunity to go to school and obtain higher-level jobs, they gain status in the community. Status translates into power to influence their families and communities.
That these are factors that make it difficult to get an education: financial difficulties, adverse cultural practices, family responsibilities, early marriages and pregnancies, lack of gender-appropriate facilities (latrines and sanitary products), low self-esteem, gender-based violence and harassment, HIV/AIDs, orphanhood and conflicts.
Many children in Kenya, especially girls from poor households, are engaged in exploitative child labour in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Labour Organization standards.
Girls are usually “needed at home” and/or “need to earn money” ( e.g domestic work—collecting firewood, fetching water, taking care of siblings, assisting in household chores and taking care of ailing family members).
An education opens up so many possibilities.