New Dangers to Girls’ Education in Northern Nigeria
This article is part of the Committing to Change: Girls’ EiE from Charlevoix to COVID-19 blog series.
For close to a decade, education for girls in the Northern part of Nigeria has been plagued by continuous attacks from the Boko Haram Insurgency group. However, there has been a new trend of abductions by bandits. In less than a month, the region has experienced two mass kidnappings by bandits. This is a sad reality for a region that has the highest rate of out-of-school children in the country, with less than 50% of girls in school. Though attacks have involved the abduction of both school boys and girls, there has been a higher reported number of abduction of school-aged girls and women.
Following the recent abduction of more than 300 school girls by bandits from a boarding school in Jangebe, Zamfara State, Nigeria, we are compelled to think of the consequences for girls’ education in a region that is already plagued by a high gender disparities in access to education. Despite reports that girls have been released, the frequency of the abductions and the violence against women and girls still pose a potent threat to the education of girls in the Northern region of Nigeria.
A major consequence of the insecurity in the region and the violence against schoolgirls has been the fear by parents of sending their girls back to school and also the fear of the girls themselves in going back to school. Even when girls agree to go back to school, the mental and psychological stress caused by such violent events hinders girls' learning, especially in a context where girls have little or no access to psychological support or a trauma-informed learning environment. This predicted loss in learning comes as a double assault after the learning loss as a result of COVID-19 school closures. Also, the lack of a safe schooling environment creates a chain of negative consequences for the future lives of girls, such as loss of education, early marriage, early pregnancy, and increased rates of sexual violence and the stigma associated with these attacks.
When girls drop out of school, it becomes more difficult to reenter the school system. Out of school girls are often forced to stay home and take up domestic chores, which exposes them to greater threats of domestic violence. However, when girls have access to education, they escape early pregnancy and marriage and are more likely to continue their education to higher levels. This, in turn, provides girls with the opportunities to fulfill their highest potential and become self-reliant.
How can we ensure our girls continue to have access to safe schooling?
Given these challenges faced by the Nigerian schoolgirls, what then are some of the recommendations for the Nigerian government to ensure that our girls continue to have access to safe schooling and quality education?
- Firstly, and perhaps the most important, our government has to invest in adequate and comprehensive security measures for schools to keep children and education personnel safe from attacks in and on the way to and from school.
- Also, there should be efforts made at the national level to provide consistent reporting of data on abuse, abduction and exploitation of girls. This is important because in several cases of the abductions of schoolgirls, there has been irregular reporting by the media representatives on the accurate number of victims and survivors.
- In the event of the shutdown of some schools due to security concerns, the government should provide means of alternative forms of education for girls to ensure that girls continue to have access to learning opportunities. This could include peer support learning networks for the girls, provision of remote learning materials facilitated by the support of community based education providers.
- Lastly, psychosocial support and a trauma-informed learning environment should be provided for girls in crisis contexts. And this could take many forms: Support from the parents and the community to ensure that when girls are at home, they are not overburdened with domestic responsibilities that it leaves them little time to study. Also, the community educators, parents and teachers should be trained with the skills and knowledge to promote girls wellbeing, protect them from violence and provide a supportive learning environment.
To create a safe and prosperous nation, we must invest in unlocking the potentials of girls and women by increasing access to quality education. Unfortunately, access to education for girls in Northern Nigeria is limited not just by student attendance or teacher quality but also by threats to the lives and safety of the girls. But all hope is not lost—if the Nigerian government acts now. It can start with providing adequate security for schools, consistent reports on the abductions, psychosocial support, and alternative forms of education for schoolgirls in Northern Nigeria.
About the Author:
Odinaka Chukwu is the INEE Gender Intern and supports the INEE Gender Task Team and Reference Group on Girls’ Education in Emergencies. She is a graduate of International Educational Development from the University of Pennsylvania. For over 5 years, she has worked in various capacities in educational organizations with the aim of fostering access to quality education for children in low-income communities. Odinaka is also the co-founder of Sharing Life Africa, a nonprofit creating access to quality education for children in underserved communities in Africa through women economic empowerment and education support programs.
The views expressed in this blog are the author's own.