Gender Biases in Education System in Nigeria
Education is a fundamental right of every human being, regardless of gender, culture, ethnicity, race, and nationality. Children living in poverty face many educational barriers, but the stakes are incredibly high for girls. Globally, there are 130 million girls who are not currently enrolled in school even when investing in their futures has the potential to uplift their families and the world. They are international protection plans committed to equity regarding quality education, but child abuse and discrimination in education remain common issues. Notably, the girl child tends to be exposed to these vices more than the boy child. Girls are vulnerable and easily affected by factors such as religion, cultural beliefs, and weak parenting choices, which limit their access to quality learning. Most of the elements that involve training and development in young girls are primarily socio-cultural aspects. Existing cultural institutions, for example, undermine and overlook female interests in education, denying such innocent persons fundamental rights and opportunities to transform their lives by going to school.
In Nigeria, the issue of gender inequality has remained a significant challenge, particularly in the education sector. While considerable strides have been made in improving access to education for all, girls still face significant barriers.
Challenges Faced by Girls in Accessing Education in Nigeria
One of the significant challenges girls face in accessing education in Nigeria is the existence of cultural barriers. In some parts of the country, girls are expected to stay home and care for the family. In such communities, education is often considered unnecessary for girls, and they are encouraged to marry early instead. This attitude towards girls' education hinders access to education, as parents do not see the value of educating their daughters. Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory. For instance, in the north of the country, the picture is even bleaker, with a net attendance rate of 53%. Genders, like geography and poverty, are essential factors in educational marginalization. States in the Northeast and Northwest have female primary school net attendance rates of 47.7% and 47.3%, respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school. Education deprivation in northern Nigeria is driven by various factors, including economic barriers and socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in formal education, especially for girls.
Poverty is another significant barrier to education for girls in Nigeria. Low-income families often cannot afford to send their children to school, and when they have to choose, they tend to prioritize their male children's education. Girls are often forced to drop out of school to help their families with household chores or work to contribute to the family income. The cost of education and other related expenses, such as uniforms, books, and transportation, can also make education unaffordable for girls from low-income families. Poverty is the most critical factor determining whether a girl can access education. Even in areas where parents don’t have to pay school fees, it can be challenging to keep up with transportation costs, textbooks, or uniforms. Parents also often rely on girls’ income to support the household, and sending a girl to school means they spend less time helping in the home.
If families can’t afford school costs, they are more likely to send boys than girls. When parents decide between buying necessities like food over sanitary napkins, girls must stop learning because they can’t manage their periods.
Gender stereotyping is a significant challenge facing girls in accessing education in Nigeria. Many teachers and school administrators hold deep-seated beliefs about gender roles and expectations, which can negatively impact girls' educational opportunities. For instance, girls are often encouraged to study courses traditionally seen as feminine, such as home economics, while boys are encouraged to study science and technology-related subjects. Such gender-based stereotypes limit girls' access to quality education, which affects their career prospects and overall socioeconomic status.
Early Marriage and Pregnancy
There are about 700 million women around the world who were married as girls. In sub-Saharan Africa, 4 in 10 girls are married unde18. The marriage of a child under 18 happens all over the world but occurs disproportionately in developing countries. Families will also allow their girls to enter child marriages if they can no longer afford to provide for them. Early marriage and pregnancy are significant factors that hinder girls' access to education in Nigeria. In many communities, girls are married off at a young age, and once they get married, they are expected to drop out of school. Additionally, adolescent girls who become pregnant are often stigmatized and forced to leave school, even when willing to continue their education. The lack of support for pregnant and parenting girls in schools means that many girls never get to complete their education. Parents let their daughters enter child marriages for various reasons. Some believe they are protecting their children from harm or stigma associated with having a relationship outside of marriage. Still, child brides who miss out on education are also more likely to experience early pregnancy, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications. For families experiencing financial hardship, child marriage reduces their economic burden, but it becomes more difficult for girls to gain financial independence without education.
Policies on Girls’ Education
The Federal Government of Nigeria, between 2004 and 2007, revised and created policies such as the National Policy on Education, National Gender Policy, the Universal Basic Education Act, and the National Policy on Gender in Basic Education. These impacted the enrolment rate for girls in schools. For instance, primary school attendance grew from 61.47% in 2004 to over 63.24% in 2006. However, due to the 2007/2008 economic crisis, Nigeria’s dependence on foreign aid to implement education projects, and changes in political structures, the enrolment rate took a downturn to over 62.6% in 2007 and drastically reduced to 56.7% in 2008. 2009 the enrolment rate gradually rose, as 57.84% was recorded, and approximately 58.1% in 2010.
In 2014, The Safe Schools Initiative (SSI) was also created after the kidnap of over 250 girls in Chibok, Borno state, Nigeria. The Safe Schools Initiative was mainly targeted at girls living in the states highly affected by conflict in the Northeast of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe.
The funding for the initiative is targeted toward the reconstruction and rehabilitation of schools and providing safe learning environments for children, especially girls. These safety measures include their journey to and from schools and within the school environment.
The Presidential Initiative for Northeast Nigeria (PINE) was also created in 2013. PINE was designed to ensure the reconstruction and recovery of northeastern Nigeria, especially in the three most affected states- Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe. PINE was later merged with the Victims Support Fund (VSF) into The Network of International NGOs in 2015.
Additionally, in response to the low levels of participation of girls in schooling, the Federal Ministry of Education, the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) of the UK, and UNICEF implemented the Girls’ Education Programme Phase 3 (GEP3) across six northern Nigerian states of Katsina, Kano, Niger, Sokoto, Zamfara and Bauchi between 2012 and 2022. Furthermore, community-based structures like the Mothers’ Association, School Based Management Committees, and High-level Women Advocates have been established to serve as enduring platforms for community mobilization, mentorship, and policy advocacy on girls’ education.
Global Goal 4 aims to ensure inclusive and equitable education for all, especially girls and women, by 2030. Several organizations are working to meet this goal through various strategies, from advocating to revise school curriculums and policies to promoting equal access to technology in schools.
UNICEF prioritizes girls’ secondary education initiatives that tackle discriminatory gender norms and address menstrual hygiene management in schools. Education Cannot Wait, the world’s first fund dedicated to education in crisis and conflict, is promoting safe learning environments, improving teachers' skills, and supporting gender-responsive education programs.
Girls' education is crucial for social and economic development in Nigeria. However, the challenges girls face in accessing education in the country are significant. Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort by the government, civil society, and the private sector to ensure that every girl has access to quality education. This can be achieved through policies and initiatives that focus on improving access to education, addressing cultural and gender stereotypes, and empowering girls to pursue their educational goals. When girls have access to quality education, they can become agents of change and drive social and economic development in Nigeria. When girls receive quality education, they see the benefits in all aspects of their lives. Women who complete secondary education are less likely to experience intimate partner violence and report higher psychological wellbeing. They go on to make higher incomes, and their children are healthier. Keeping girls in school supports economic growth, promotes peace and even helps fight climate change.
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