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EMELDA Musonda.

Education fundamental to creating a skilled girl force

TODAY, October 11, Zambia joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child under the theme ‘With her: A skilled girl force’.
The day, which is commemorated annually, aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting their empowerment and fulfilment of human rights.
The commemoration presents an opportunity for the country to reflect on achievements and shortfalls in alleviating the many challenges faced by the girl child and creating opportunities for economic empowerment.
According to the United Nations, this year’s theme speaks to the need to bring together partners and stakeholders to draw attention and investments to the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to attain skills for employability.
Certainly we cannot overemphasise the need to equip girls with skills if they are to become relevant to the labour market that is driven by innovation and automation and intrinsically male-dominated. This is critical in our continued bid to bridge the gender gap.
UN data indicates that of the 1 billion young people – including 600 million adolescent girls – who will enter the workforce in the next decade, more than 90 percent of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common.
This means for the girl child to fit into the dynamic work environment, she needs to have access to education and skills.
However, the sad reality is, despite education being the foundation on which girl child empowerment should be anchored, there are many factors that still stand in the way of many girls.
While acknowledging efforts of many stakeholders working tirelessly to ensure the girl child has access to education, young girls continue to be prematurely forced out of the classroom through child marriages.
According to the 2016 Education Statistical Bulletin,11,765 girls in primary schools and 3,457 in secondary schools, a total of 15,222, fell pregnant and dropped out of school in 2016 alone.
This is despite the fact that the re-entry policy allows girls who fall pregnant to get back to school.
Early this year, the Ministry of Gender indicated that child marriages prevalence was at 31 percent.
These are not just figures but lives of girls with limitless potential being wasted and relegated to perpetual vulnerability and suffering.
It certainly cannot be business as usual; we need to put a stop to this scourge that is undermining efforts towards gender equality and subsequently the development agenda.
Besides child marriages, there are many other factors affecting girls’ access to education, especially secondary.
In a country where 60 percent of the population lives under the poverty datum line, girls suffer the most consequences as they are often the first to be sacrificed when the family resource basket is inadequate.
The patriarchal culture that has characterised society for a long time has always placed preferential treatment on a boy child in as far as access to education is concerned.
While Government is making steady progress in the construction of school infrastructure across the country, there are still rural areas where girls cover long distances to access school. This tends to discourage many girls.
Lack of sanitary towels has also been cited as a factor that has negatively affected girls’ education.
Some stakeholders like World Vision Zambia have contended that a lot of girls miss out on school as they have to stay away during their menstruation period because they cannot afford sanitary towels.
The cumulative days of absentia affects girls’ performance in school and in some instances has led to more girls dropping out due to failure.
As we commemorate International Day of the Girl Child, we must remember that education is the foundation on which other forms of empowerment can be anchored
It has been said many times, and very profoundly that, “When you educate a girl, you educate a nation”.
The impact of girls’ education on society is undeniable. Improvements in economic prosperity and resilience, health outcomes and overall wellbeing can be attributed to the prioritisation of girls’ education. Providing equal opportunities for girls to attend school and empowering girls to continue their education can open a world of possibilities for marginalised communities and create dynamic change at national and global level.
It is commendable that Government, under the Zambia Girls 2030 programme, with UNICEF’s support, accorded 4,985 girls in 200 schools a career guidance package intended to enhance secondary school retention. This programme has exposed adolescents, especially girls, to different career options and increased their knowledge of life skills and entrepreneurship.
In tandem with this year’s theme, stakeholders need to come together not only to advocate but invest more in a girl child to create that much desired skilled girl force with potential to provide solutions to the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.
While it is commendable that various stakeholders are working towards empowering a girl child, there is need to consolidate these efforts for greater impact.
As long as these efforts remain fragmented, not much will be achieved and duplication is inevitable.
All stakeholders with the interest of the girl child at heart will do well to pull all their resources into one basket and devise one elaborate plan on how to build a skilled girl force and address the challenges girls generally face.
With commitment, focus and sacrifice from all stakeholders, creating a skilled girl force is attainable.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.