© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
SPECIAL REPORT: When girls are singled out, boys lose out in school
EVIDENCE has shown that when parents are specifically empowered to send girls to school, they gain an advantage over boys. Consequently, boys become envious, frustrated and eventually withdraw from school.
Between 2014 and 2016, Unicef, the UN children’s agency, implemented an unconditional cash transfer scheme to increase girls’ enrolment, retention and completion of basic education in selected schools in Niger and Sokoto states. Parents were sensitised on girl-child education and given N5, 000 per term for two years to have their daughters in school.
Despite the fact that the scheme achieved its goals, it had also produced an unintended negative outcome.
“The CTP [Cash Transfer Programme] had a negative impact on some parents’ attitude to boys’ enrolment and attendance at school,” Unicef says in the impact evaluation report of the Girls’ Education Project (GEP3), funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).
“It was reported in both states that some aggrieved parents who did not benefit from the CTP withdrew boys from school and some boys were getting frustrated or envious that they were not included in the CTP,” the report adds.
The initiative was successful for girl’s enrolment in both states. Niger had an estimated increase of 52 girls per targeted school and Sokoto had 73 girls. While the impact of the programme on girls’ enrolment is significant, the negative effect on boys invites question on the rationale for social interventions that focus on a particular gender.
Primary school net attendance ratio in Sokoto State is 34.6 percent for boys and 27.1 percent for girls, according to the 2015 Nigeria Education Data Survey. In Niger State, it is 63.5 percent for boys and 62.5 percent for girls.
Boys and girls are both victims of circumstances that keep them out of school in northern Nigerian. Many children do not go to school because of poverty-related causes and parents in the region tend to make poverty-related decisions that keep more girls out of school than boys.
In the north, well-off parents send both the boys and girls to school. But poor parents send more boys to school than girls, the decision which sometimes has to do with mothers sending their daughters to hawk on the streets because they are not allowed by their spouses to mingle with the opposite sex in public or girls being kept at home for domestic chores or being married off as early as 12 years old.
Boys are not better off. Poor parents send the boys away to “Almajiri” where they are taught Islamic knowledge by their mentors and they beg for alms.The boys – with begging bowels at hands in tattered clothes without footwear – roam the communities during school hours.
As poverty is the main reason for not sending children to school, increasing the household income through unconditional cash transfer reduces the financial barriers that keep them out of school. But targeting only girls for this kind of intervention makes their education more attractive to parents than boys.
“Beyond the evaluation report, we also realised that the issues of out of school children are not just about girls in this part of the country,” Azuka Menkiti, education specialist with Unicef, told the ICIR. “So we need to carry everybody along and address the issues collectively.
A similar cash transfer scheme currently being implemented by Unicef in Kebbi and Zamfara states caters for both boys and girls. The programme is supported by Qatar Foundation.
Menkiti says the decision to target only girls in the earlier cash transfer scheme was informed by data that showed that more boys were in school than girls, adding that that about 60 percent of children that are not going to school are girls.
“Issues of access to education affect boys differently from the ways it affects girls. So our analysis showed that the girls were more negatively affected than boys and that was why we focused on girls. The context we are working in northern Nigeria clearly showed that more girls are out of school than boys.”
QUANTUM LEAP FOR GIRLS
Nuba Ya’u, a teacher at New Rimawa Model Primary School in Goronyo Local Government Area in Sokoto State told the ICIR that he has 75 girls and 50 boys in his Primary three class. But before the cash transfer started, he says, there were just 30 girls in the class.
During the 2014/2015 academic session, the primary school registered 172 girls and 383 boys. By 2017/2018 session, the wide gap in enrolment between boys and girls had closed as 528 boys and 506 girls were enrolled in the school.
Yusuf Abubakar, the head teacher, told the ICIR that the cash transfer and sensitisation convinced parents to send their daughters to school.
The two-year Unicef’s cash transfer programme in Sokoto State has ended and there is a likelihood that the parents will withdraw their daughters when they stop receiving the cash.
Tsalla Lima and Suleiman Alhaji Agada told the ICIR that they will keep their daughters in school if the cash transfer stops but they believe that some other parents may withdraw their children. The Sokoto State government has made a commitment to sustain the programme as N270 million was captured in the state’s 2017 budget for this purpose.
While the Unicef’s cash transfer targeted over 10,000 families in 62 communities from six local government areas, the scale up by the state will cover selected communities from the entire 23 local governments in the state.
A rapid appraisal survey conducted by the state in some targeted communities for the cash transfer showed that 9,927 boys between 3 to 17 years old dropped out of school while 8,945 of girls in the same age bracket dropped out of school.
Despite this information that more boys dropped out of school than boys, the state is still going ahead with the scheme of paying caregivers who enrol girls in school.
Sani Jabbi, a traditional ruler and member of the state’s cash transfer committee, told the ICIR that over the years, the culture of northern Nigerian disproportionately downplayed girls’ education. He argues for the need to encourage girls’ enrolment because boys have already been taken care of.
He says the small number of women in medical care professions in the state is responsible for the high number of women who die of pregnancy-related causes.
“Maternal mortality is high in Sokoto State because of men’s attitude. They don’t want men to touch their wives and we have the minimal participation of women in health care professions,” Jabbi says.
“It is our ultimate responsibility to ensure that every girl is supported to enrol and finish school so that we can have future midwives and women in different professions in the state.”
BOYS’ DROPOUT NOT CAUSED BY CASH TRANSFER
Maimuda Galadima, Coordinator of Sokoto State Cash Transfer Programme in the state’s Ministry of Education, told the ICIR that the cash transfer for girls’ enrolment was not the cause of boys’ dropout. He insists that other factors could be responsible for the higher school dropout among boys.
“If it is raining season, up to the harvesting season, you will not have much of the boys in school,” Galadima argues. “They will go to the farm.”
He says dropout is defined as staying out of school for six weeks. “We have about four to five months of the raining season. Possibly, that period, some boys were engaged in farming activities and they assumed that the boys had dropped out.”
Galadima says the state is trying to use the cash transfer to close the existing wide gap between boys and girls enrolment. “In a number of schools, you can have 100 boys against six girls. We want to bring in girls into the schools and that is why the programme is targeting the girls. And when they are targeted, a large number of them enter the schools.”
Muhammad Kilgori, Commissioner of Higher Education in Sokoto State, told the ICIR that the state is considering tweaking the cash transfer to include boys.
“There was no dropout but rather the reduction in momentum in getting the boys to school,” Kilgori says. “And that is why we have to do a sort of holistic approach to take care of both girls and boys.”